Apple deserves all the credit in the world for transforming smartphones from ugly chunks of plastic with physical QWERTY keyboards into sleek metal and glass touchscreen devices.
In recent years, however, the company’s ability to innovate with iPhone has been questioned. Despite some big internal upgrades like water-resistance and dual cameras — on top of the controversial removal of the headphone jack — the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus bear the burden of looking old with a design that hasn’t changed much since the iPhone 6.
And though leaks for the iPhone 8 are aplenty, it’s still somewhat difficult to pin down what will and won’t make it come announcement time this fall.
Andy Rubin’s newly announced Essential Phone, however, could give us a clue as to what the iPhone 8 (and all smartphones, for that matter) will look like in a few years.
Let’s start with with the display. The iPhone 8’s screen (or “iPhone X”, or “iPhone Edition, or whatever it’ll be called) must go edge-to-edge this year. All of this year’s flagship phones have edge-to-edge displays (or near edge-to-edge).
LG’s G6 crams an 5.7-inch 18:9 display with super slim bezels into a body that normally fits a 5-inch screen. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ packs 5.8- and 6.2-inch 18.5:9 displays with no left or right bezels thanks to the curved glass edges, as well as extremely narrow top and bottom bezels.
The future of phone displays is edge-to-edge. If Apple doesn’t make it happen this year, the new iPhone’s gonna look like a dinosaur.
What will an iPhone with an edge-to-edge display look like? Hard to say. Despite weeks of daily iPhone 8 leaks, we’ve yet to see any for the screen.
My guess is the iPhone 8 will have a thin bezel at the top to house the earpiece, selfie camera and sensors, similar to the Galaxy S8. Worst case, it has a huge bezel at the top, as Engadget claims.
The Essential Phone has me thinking otherwise, though. Its very unusual edge-to-edge screen wraps around the selfie camera, which might mean an iPhone with a similar screen, like the one rendered below by Benjamin Geskin, could actually happen.
My only concern is what that means for swiping down to open Notification Center. Accidentally swiping down on the the selfie camera is not something you wanna do. I suppose you could swipe on the left and right of the cutout, but that just seems very un-Apple-like to me.
The “modular” magnetic pins on the Essential Phone also have me wondering if Apple will do the same. A recent report claimed Apple will add a three-pin “Smart Connector,” similar to the iPad Pro’s, to the iPhone 8.
The Essential Phone’s materials also suggest Apple could switch from its usual glass, steel, and aluminum to sturdier titanium and ceramic in the future. There’s never been an iPhone made of either material, but Apple’s used titanium in its old PowerBooks and the current Apple Watch Edition has a ceramic case.
Also, notice how the dual camera system on the Essential Phone is flush with the backside — there’s no camera bump! I know Apple’s obsessed with making its devices thinner, but I wouldn’t mind a slightly thicker iPhone like the Essential with a roomy battery and no camera bump. Count me in.
A phone with no headphone jack is one thing, but one without a dedicated port for charging and data transfer? It’d send a seismic shockwave across the industry.
The most interesting thing about the Essential phone isn’t even the phone itself, but Rubin’s vision for phones in the future. At this year’s Code Conference, Rubin strongly implied that future Essential phones might be port-less. A phone with no headphone jack is one thing, but one without a dedicated port for charging and data transfer? It’d send a seismic shockwave across the industry. Wireless is no doubt the future, but the backlash on a port-less phone would be even greater than killing the headphone jack.
Rubin’s company is selling the Essential Phone as a premium device, but it’s also worth remembering that it’s highly unlikely to ship them in volume the way Apple gets Foxconn to churn out iPhones overnight.
Ceramic cases are not easy to produce. Titanium is not as cheap as aluminum or steel. That custom display with the selfie camera cutout is most definitely expensive. These are premium differentiators today, but in a few years they’ll be commonplace much like how even budget phones are made of premium metal and glass.
I have no idea if people will give a damn about the Essential Phone — never buy into all the noise from the diehard nerd crowd (RIP Nexus) — but it at least looks like it’s paving the road for all other phones to follow.