When Is Bigger Better?

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Photo credit: Janitors)

Chocolate bars?  Sorry.  I’m referring to phones at the moment.  Anyone who answered anatomically – no comment, but you know who you are.

In the last few years smartphone makers have been simultaneously racing to make the thinnest phone whilst also ensuring their screens are bigger than everyone elses – bigger numbers sell it seems.  For years Apple played no part in this, with Steve Jobs apparently saying that bigger screens were impractical, until they then made a bigger screened phone and suddenly it was an obvious thing to do because it is the perfect fit for your thumb’s range of movement.  Right.  What they haven’t done (yet) is make a 6″ screen phone, what many tech bloggers mockingly referred to (when Samsung unveiled the Note) as a Phablet.

How they laughed.  Until millions of people went out and bought them.  25.2 million shipped in the Asia-Pacific region during the second quarter of the year, according to IDC.  Samsung still has around 50% of the market tied up in Notes.  The larger screen smartphone trend was really started by the Dell Streak but the Galaxy Note really made the form popular, especially with its s-Pen stylus which gave back touchscreen devices truly precise pen-like use even though, again according to Steve Jobs they were an outdated way to control a device.  People like to doodle and make handwritten notes though and this is easier with a pen, as it properly drawing something, annotating a plan etc…

One reason that larger phones are catching on is that they’re not really that big, the screen size has increased but the surrounding bezel has reduced almost to the point of non-existence so, combined with thinner chassis the phone doesn’t feel too bulky – though despite the idea that we’ll evolve different shaped thumbs due to texting is a massive misunderstanding of evolution our trousers may evolve bigger pockets.  Or sales of jackets and cloaks with poachers’ pockets may increase.  A particular user group for big-screen phones is apparently people with impaired eyesight as the larger on-screen keys are easier to read and type on.  Lastly the availability of high-speed mobile internet and the fact that smartphones can connect to wi-fi internet whenever possible makes them popular for watching films and tv or gaming on the move, though personally I wouldn’t want to watch a film on anything less than my 7″ tablet.

Some have aired concern that as manufacturers battle to have the biggest screen size consumers will be forced to accept bigger phones in order to get higher specs elsewhere in the device and this could be a problem, as this Gizmodo UK article points out they should also release smaller versions too and it seems that this is happening with smaller but not spec-crippled phones beginning to trickle out from companies like HTC and Sony.

One considerable downside is the size of the phone when you actually make a phone call, I know, it’s crazy but some people still do that.  I’ve not tried it but I’ve read that after so many years of phones becoming so tiny and inconspicuous that you’d sometimes appear to be talking to yourself it feels odd to have something the general size and shape of a thin paperback novel stuck against your head whilst talking to it.  This is the difference between today’s big phones and the eighties bricks – back then you wanted people to see your expensive mobile and didn’t care how big it was.  To this end phone makers have come full-circle and are developing tiny satellite handsets which look eerily like late-nineties GSM phones, with buttons and everything, connected via bluetooth for the purposes of making voice calls via the smartphone lurking in your pocket or bag.  It’s only a matter of time before we get these add-on handsets made to look like classic Nokias or Motorolas, I suppose, with the current retro obsession in other areas of technology.

Taking all this to its (il)logical conclusion in the future perhaps the smartphone will become a hub, connected to your smartwatch for notifications, your Google Glass style eyepiece for even speedier updates and navigation, and your peripheral handset for talking.  At which point we’ve gone from carrying many devices doing various jobs to many devices doing various jobs but connected together.

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If You Liked It Then You Shoulda Put a Case on It

Case Mate iPhone case

Case Mate iPhone case (Photo credit: The Style PA)  

My first mobile phone was a Motorola in 1998, it was about the same size and shape as a hot-dog bun but weighed significantly more, it had a single line display and a pull-out aerial that the instructions warned you not to touch in use for reasons that seemed unnecessarily sinister at the time and was so solid that it felt like if you dropped it the surface onto which it fell would suffer more than the phone.

Today though advances in materials and phone technology have given us phones that we cosset and cradle like tiny woodland creatures.  Just a couple of days ago my belt buckle, for reasons only known to it, decided to attack my Xperia which was in my pocket, I heard the metal hit the glass screen.  I winced as I pulled the phone out.  Thankfully it wasn’t damaged, working in the glass industry I should have had a bit more confidence in its direct impact resistance but had it been hit from the side it might have been a different story.

We hear stories of iPhones’ metal bodies scratching and the anodization flaking off, of screens being cracked by light falls onto floors and so on, often very soon after getting the thing.  Product designers for Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony etc spend months meticulously researching and creating these shiny devices and the first thing people feel the need to do is clamp them inside cases meticulously created in parallel by case designers.  It is a bizarre paradox that people buy something and the appearance of it is part of the decision but then have to hide it away to maintain its integrity.  I put my phone in a fleece-lined sleeve when it’s in my bag or in a pocket sans-keys etc otherwise but I still feel anxious when it’s in my hand, constantly thinking of how much a new screen would be.  This anxiety has also created the new market of gadget insurance.

Fashions don’t help, so many phones are now made with shiny, glossy materials which are not exactly the best at adhering to either your hand or a surface.  At this point I will defer to the commenters of Gizmodo UK:

ollypercival “I CANNOT BELIEVE how slippery the N4 is. I put it down on what I swear is a flat surface and 5 minutes later I hear the clunk of it hitting the floor. I actually got the spirit level out to check I wasn’t going mental.  If it’s on my bedside table and someone calls me, it’s practically in the bathroom before I can catch up with it.”

hyperspacey “My manager warned me to keep an eye on it seeing as it’s like an air-hockey puck with a death wish.”

Ebbysantos “I’ve not got a case for it, I just can’t get used to the things, plus what’s the point of covering such a pretty thing with a utilitarian bit of plastic?  Would be like putting Jennifer Lawrence in a bright yellow waterproof onesie!”

Quite.

Cheeky Marketing

apples

apples (Photo credit: msr)

My parents will tell you that when I was little, as in younger not shorter, I watched the adverts on TV more than the programmes.  back then there were many amusing and memorable ads, these days though too many try to be clever or ironic but fail to be funny – notable exceptions being the current Fosters “Good Call” campaign and Three’s Dancing Pony.  Some of the pseudo-science can be hilarious if you’re of a scientific persuasion but that’s for another post on another day.

One recent advert immediately caught my eye and made me laugh, then had me wondering whether they’d get away with it.  No, I thought, their lawyers must have checked it.  It’ll be fine.  The ad in question is, of course, the Somersby Cider parody of the excitement that surrounds the product launches of a certain fruitily named purveyor of shiny gadgetry.  I was impressed with the creativity and just how many gadget puns they managed “single core, dual core” and the “less apps, more apples” tagline.  The fact that it’s cider just added to the enjoyment of it.

But it’s not just Carlsberg who have been a tad cheeky recently, in the days preceding Samsung’s Galaxy S4 launch LG placed an ad for their Nexus 4 on their Times Square billboard above Samsung’s “be ready 4 the next Galaxy”  which read “ready 4 you now”.  Cunning.

Then on the launch day while journalists were waiting to enter the venue and feeling rather chilly in the midst of the New York winter HTC thoughtfully laid on complimentary hot chocolate.  So yet more tasty marketing.

It’s good to see that in our times of vicious patent lawsuits and arguments over who invented rectangles with rounded corners companies can indulge in some light-hearted competition.