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What new form factor could break the mold?

Smartphones are boring, but a new phone this year made us start thinking about what new form factor might be coming to shake things up in the future. Here are our thoughts.

Published onJanuary 18, 2018

Let’s face it: the landscape of smartphone design has gotten pretty boring. About the only questions left in today’s smartphone design are “will there be glass on both sides?” and “how far will the camera bump stick out?” Exciting stuff, I know.  One could say smartphone design has peaked. In fact, we did!

That’s probably why I enjoy using the ZTE Axon M so much. It’s not necessarily about what the phone is, but rather what it can be. This is a phone truly trying to break the mold. Sure, adding a second screen isn’t rocket science — it’s not even the first phone to do it. But it being out there as a consumer product, with ZTE throwing its weight behind it, is exciting. So, what’s next?

Shell of a good design

The tablet's days may indeed be numbered

Phones might start folding in the other direction — the clamshell design. Samsung is working on just such a device. We could see it as early as next year. Such a device might able to replace a tablet entirely.  I already wrote as much when discussing the ZTE Axon M. But while clamshells are interesting, at least in a retro throwback kind of way, I can’t help but wonder what else we might be seeing in the future.

The real benefit to a clamshell design is obvious: protection. Closing a phone behind a protective shell would keep the screen scratch free,  and eliminate the need for a protector. Meanwhile, the outside could be nice and sleek, but also designed to take a beating. You wouldn’t have to worry about dropping your phone into a bag or purse and scratching it up. Durability would be a big bonus with this design, but what if folded the other way?

Lenovo’s bringing it

It’s like if your phone and smartwatch had a baby, which was wet nursed by a FitBit.

Two years ago Lenovo introduced Moto Mods with a couple of devices, the Lenovo CPlus and Folio. The Lenovo CPlus is a bracelet type of device, which starts as a very narrow phone and folds around your wrist. It’s like if your phone and smartwatch had a baby, nursed by a Fitbit. What you end up with is a phone which could potentially carry a lot of sensors for health tracking, and the portability of carrying it around on your wrist, as opposed to your pocket.

Smartwatches have long touted the “you won’t have to pull your phone from your pocket” line in their sales pitches. With this phone, you would have just as quick access to everything, only on the interface for which it was all originally designed.

Of course, a concept like this would have to be really thin, light, and durable to work. Wearing a phone on your wrist could make it susceptible to bumps and cracks — even more so than a smartwatch. In the past, flexible screens have been incredibly scratch-prone. How this device would deal with that problem would likely make or break it. Add to that the need to be really thin — both in width and depth — to be wearable. Concepts like Microsoft’s smartwatch/fitness tracker were incredibly thick, and it wasn’t a good look. Plus, there’s a point where a bracelet becomes a bit too Game of Thrones for most tastes.

What’s in your Folio?

The other device, the Folio, is similar to what the Axon M already is, with one notable exception — the Axon M is already available. While the idea of a phone with a screen on both sides that folds out is not new,  Lenovo ups the ante a bit by using a flexible display to bridge the gap between the two screens. This display wraps around the hinge and forms one continuous screen when in tablet mode.

This avoids one of the biggest issues of the ZTE Axon M. That bezel running down the middle of the screen can be very off-putting for some users. Eliminating that middle bezel and actually giving more than double the screen space would be an awesome achievement. It might even reignite interest in tablet-like devices.

Rolling forward

There are a number of other flexible screen concepts being thrown around right now. Samsung is working on device that rolls out into phone or tablet mode, which might be coming in the future. Samsung created the above video a few years ago to illustrate the concept. If you look past the obvious stereotypes and bad acting and go straight to 1:32, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

This is a device that is as versatile as you need it. Need a phone? Extend. Need a tablet? Extend more. It could adapt to whatever you need. That’s just scratching the surface of this tech’s capabilities, all in a form factor that slips into your pocket, completely protected in its casing — no screen protectors needed. It could be a great solution.


Turn a blank wall into a smartboard

Another under-utilized area of smartphone tech is in projectors. Motorola tackled this with its projector mod, which was cool. Pico projectors allow you to turn your computer or smartphone screen into a giant display. The next step is installing one of these bad boys into the phone itself. This could have a number of uses. Motorola is already capitalizing on  the ability to show your phone screen to audiences with its mod, but a projector could also have other advantages.

You could use a projector to display a keyboard on any surface to make your phone much more usable when writing more than just a few sentences. Combine a projector with AR technology and you could, in a sense, bring your  creations into the real world. A blank wall could become a smartboard powered by your phone. Folding screens suddenly don’t seem so large any more. Put two projectors into a phone and make a keyboard in front and a monitor in the back. In fact, Lenovo is already working on a similar concept.

These are just a few things we might see. What are you looking forward to in 2018, or even beyond? What ideas or concepts haven’t we discussed here? Let us know in the comments down below.

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