Back in the early 21st Century, the word “smartphone” had yet to enter the American vernacular. Early cell phones were undergoing a metamorphosis of their own, though — from bulky, “bagged” models that were strictly kept in high-end automobiles, to lighter, more durable devices that more aptly represented their “mobile” intent. “Brick” phones, like the one Zack Morris toted down the halls of Bayside in Saved by the Bell (similar to one I actually still own), were being replaced with models of ever-decreasing size & weight. In fact, the Motorola Razr, the company’s thin, “fashion-focused” flip-phone, was arguably as popular as the iPhone is today; and, still holds a sales record with 130 million units sold.
During this timeframe, however, my mobile preferences were a tad more “sophisticated” (I guess) — while my friends all opted for the Razr or similar clamshell models, the phone line I upgraded as regularly as the iPhone was Danger’s HipTop, aka the T-Mobile Sidekick. I like to think of this (extremely bulky) mobile as the original smartphone; it provided (limited) access to the Internet, chat programs such as AIM, and even had an email program & allowed for rudimentary emojis in text messages.
The Sidekick – and similar phones like an early Windows Mobile I owned for about a week – were never the most popular during the early 2000’s; mainly because consumers wanted smaller, lighter, and more compact. Tech was trending smaller based on the demand.
Luckily, in the past several years, we’ve seen a resurgence of “big” tech. And, unlike “Big Tobacco” or “Big Pharma”, this big is a good thing.
As recent record-profits for Apple due to massive iPhone 6 sales prove — in 2015, bigger is better. Small, lightweight clamshell phones still have a niche; but, it’s mostly with carriers designed for the budget-conscience or senior citizens. No longer are consumers interested in the “smallest” phone they can get their hands on; instead, they want functionality, and will sacrifice pocket-room for more of it.
This trend, I’d argue, is good for those of us who root for innovation. Making things smaller typically means that cell phone manufacturers have to concede to trade-offs. Had the buying public continued to clamour over “the next small thing”, these concessions would undoubtedly proceed — sure, technology has certainly advanced since the original Razr was produced, but there’s still only so-much you can pack into a compact casing.
The consumer shift in priority (function over form, in some sense) gives designers some, pardon the pun, “breathing room” to introduce evolving functionality into still relatively-small devices.
Does this resurgence in “big” tech have an eventual limit? Likely; though, I’m not sure right now where the breaking point for the consumer lies. It will be interesting to see sales figures for Apple’s rumored 13-inch iPad when it is released — perhaps, a tablet of that size will be declared “just too large” by the average consumer.
Though, if it isn’t; just where the hell will tech go from there??