Tim Green: "Sometimes I wish phones were rubbish again." | Mobile Devices | Mobile Entertainment

Tim Green: "Sometimes I wish phones were rubbish again."

Tim Green:
Tim Green

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Devices / Blackberry / February 7th 2013 at 2:00PM

Remember when handsets swivelled and flipped and didn't really function very well as phones? Fun, wasn't it?

So, you'll be aware that BlackBerry is back with its BB10 phones. I've had a quick play, and have been impressed with the new UI. It's lightning quick to transition between screens and it all seems pretty intuitive as a UI.

I don't give it much chance, though. Not in the near term, at least.

Why? For the simple reason that most iPhone and Android users are perfectly happy with their devices. And they're also locked into the two respective ecosystems, so they don't particularly want to move and it's hard to switch even for those who are thinking about it.

It's the same issue for WinPho, which I've used and loved.

WinPho is great. But, again, not quite great enough.

When BlackBerry did its big reveal last week, I thought how refreshing it would be if the OEM had decided to make hardware and not software the focus of its new direction. What if it had said, 'yeah, its got icons and apps and all that, but its bendy and completely unbreakable and has a two week battery life'.

How'd do you like them Apples, Apple, they could have said.

Of course, I realise that these hardware breakthroughs are not quite ready for market yet. But wouldn't it be great if the industry could break away from the tyranny of the touchscreen slab and make form factor the chief differentiator again?

That's how it used to be.

And the truth is, I miss those shitty old phones.

Back in the old days (you'll notice I didn't say 'back in the day' because I am white and English), when ME was a magazine, we used to run a 'phone of the month' feature. We'd pick a device and run down the specs, but also comment on its appearance and build.

It was fun. And it served as a regular reminder of the vast array of form factors vying for attention in the market.

Back then (again, not 'back in the day'), mobile was like London. Look around and you saw diversity everywhere. Now it's more like – I dunno – Pyongyang or something. Everyone looks the same.

Yeah I know, the bald truth is that there was diversity because there was no consensus yet on what was the best design for a phone. Which meant that the most eye-catching handsets were interesting yet shit.

Remember the Danger Hiptop? Shit.

The Motorola Razr? Shit.

The Nokia 7600? Again, shit.

These phones compare miserably to what we have now in nearly every respect. Switching from one function to another took ages because even the basic features weren't integrated. Accessing the internet was time-consuming and unreliable. And so on. You were there. You remember.

But in another way, this was a golden age. A new phone launch was fun and exciting. Motorola unveiled its V70 and it swivelled around a circular screen.

Swivelled!

Nokia's 7380 looked like a lipstick case. Thing is, it was easier to make calls using a real lipstick case, such was the 7380's strange and impenetrable scroll wheel input system. Even today, it stands up as a work of deranged genius, and it's hard to believe it actually made it to market.

But it did. And I'm already beginning to look back on those crazy days of stupid crappy handsets as a special time.

In three weeks, the next next generation of smartphones will be unveiled at MWC. I think we all know what to expect. The new devices will be amazing. They will be triumphs of software engineering. And yet also boring.

I'm sure there will also be some intriguing new technologies tucked away around the place that might give a clue as to the next big phase of innovation (the Israel Mobile Association zone is a good place to start). Bendy phones? Foldaway screens? Glasses?

Perhaps.

Or maybe the rectilinear touchscreen is now the fixed and unchallengeable model of design excellence. Like the two wheel bicycle or Penelope Cruz. But I hope it isn't.

Oh God, now I'm thinkng about Penelope Cruz on a bike. That's me done for the day.

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