Smartphones have largely followed the same form for the past decade. The great majority were and still are a rectangular block with a big touch screen fitted with a camera or two, varying only by factors like screen size, storage space, processing power, and so on. But now we’re starting to see a change, with a new flip phone-like announcement.
Earlier today, Samsung announced the Galaxy Fold, a device which transforms from a standard smartphone into a tablet, transferring any activity on the outside to its bigger display instantly. It’s pretty impressive stuff, but it’s not the first to do the foldable display thing, either. Royole showed off its FlexPai smartphone late last year and while the idea is almost the same, it just doesn’t seem as elegant as the Galaxy Fold.
This is the "world's first foldable screen phone" released by Rouyu Technology, which will use the Snapdragon 8150 processor, but its design is very rough, just to seize the "first", this is a futures product. pic.twitter.com/M0v9o2z0Bw
— Ice universe (@UniverseIce) October 31, 2018
It got me thinking about the pure concept of a flip phone, which certainly isn’t new. In fact, the idea of a “clamshell design” has been around for decades, mainly in terms of laptop computing, but Motorola released the first flip phone, the MicroTAC, in 1989, featuring a mouthpiece which folded down to reveal its keypad. At the time, it was the smallest and lightest mobile phone on the market, and folks lost their minds at how easy it was to fit into a pocket or purse.
There are far too many flip phones to cover all of them, but here’s some of the more notable ones from over the years.
In 1996, Motorola brought out the StarTAC, which was considered the first clamshell-style mobile phone, featuring a big ugly number display at the top. Get a load of this thing.
Around the same time, Nokia released the 8110, or more popularly known as the “banana phone,” for obvious reasons. It’s by no means a flip phone, but the whole slide phone thing was certainly an adjacent trend.
In 1998, Nokia released the 9000 Communicator range, which featured a horizontal flip-up design with a full keyboard. They definitely weren’t the flashiest units, but they were cutting edge at the time.
Fun fact: you may recognise the 9210 specifically because it was the phone used in the music video for Nelly‘s Dilemma, in which Kelly Rowland tried to send a text message in a goddamn Excel spreadsheet.
After this came all of the phones you probably remember from back in the day, specifically, the Nokia 3210, 3310, and so on. Around the same time, Samsung released a flip phone with MP3 capabilities, but it went largely unnoticed, and Erricson put out an incredibly weird phone with a touchscreen on the back partially covered by a flip. This is the R380.
Erricson went on to release another flip phone, the T39, and Sanyo put the SCP-5300 in 2002, which was one of the very first camera phones.
But in 2004, one of the most popular flip phones of all time hit the scene. Yep, it was the Motorola Razr, and it was a svelte, sleek, sexy motherfucker.
There was a heap of iterations of the Razr throughout the years, and I’d say Motorola was the only company to truly nail the perfect flip phone. Nokia tried again with a few decent designs, like the 6131, but nothing really caught on as the Razr did.
Between this and the iPhone 3G, the phone world became a Wild West of weird fucking design. Slide phones really had a moment there, but nothing that lasted. LG had its Chocolate phone, which was by no means edible, and Samsung tried the hybrid slide thing with its Gravity phone.
And then there was the Nokia 6800, which was just absurd. It could be used as a normal phone but could also fold out into a fucking nightmare. I still don’t understand it.
The Blackberry-like design of just whacking an entire keyboard onto the bottom of a handset was also a thing before the iPhone really blasted off, and Nokia dived headfirst into it with the E63 and E71.
HTC and Nokia tried to do their own touchscreen phones when the iPhone dropped, but they didn’t have the same feel by any means. Keeping with the theme of flip phones, the design got a little more, uh, obnoxious, but for the most part, not a lot changed. Here’s the Panasonic P001, which came out in 2009.
And the Cassio 001.
The flip phone never really disappeared completely, but it was certainly shuffled to the back of the room in favour of smartphones as we know them now, whether it was an iPhone, Galaxy, Pixel, or something else.
Over the past year, Apple‘s iPhone sales have dropped off quite a bit, and it’s not that hard to see why. The bog-standard smartphone design has grown boring and people are no longer excited by a simple upgrade to storage size, processing power, or camera capabilities, which is why the Galaxy Fold is exciting to so many. It’s true change in form factor, and while progression in terms of processing capabilities are always welcomed, they aren’t as tangible as a real physical overhaul.
I’m not saying the Fold is gonna be ~The Next Big Thing~, it’s far too soon to be making a call like that. What I hope it means, though, is that we’ll start seeing the next true wave of smartphones emerge from here.
And if you’re happy to sit out the Fold this time around in favour of the Galaxy S10, you can suss out the best plans getting around below.
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