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Home / Features / Next Big Thing: The featureless phone

Next Big Thing: The featureless phone

Smartphones of the future won’t look amazing – they won’t really look like anything

Phones in the future won’t look like anything? What does that even mean?

We’re barely a month into 2019, and already smartphone companies are hurling concept art and press releases about with merry abandon, trying to get everyone all excited about the next generation of blowers. Their current infatuation: making technology vanish. And it looks like they’re going to try and take this a bit too literally, making your phone almost disappear in two distinct stages.

Have you been at the sherbet again?

No, listen. We’ve already published announcements from Meizu and Vivo on Stage One. This is all about out-Jony-Iving Jony Ive, removing everything that’s seemingly superfluous from a phone.

This goes way beyond Apple’s desire for ‘courage’ (which is Apple speak for ‘no headphone jack’) or binning a notch – the idea is to eradicate all buttons and holes. So you’ll no longer have speaker grilles, only be able to charge wirelessly, eSIMs will be enforced, and you’ll get no physical buttons for turning your phone off or changing the volume.

Sounds like the future to me.

Sounds like a great way to end up embedding one in the wall, if it doesn’t do what you’re hoping for. No more buttons as a point of last resort. And Stuff bets you’ll always be far more likely to find a plug point than a wireless charging surface. And playing audio through a screen doesn’t seem smart. And changing the volume by accidentally brushing the side of your phone would be hideous. And—

Royole FlexPai initial verdict

All right, granddad: I’m excited about this, even if you want to curl up with a VIC–20. So what’s next?

Stage Two will be to make the tech wafer thin, so you can shove even a giant clown-shoes phone in a wallet. For full-on tablet-style use, your device would be fully unfolded. When you get a call on the Tube (or, as it will be then, the Magical London Hoverrail™), you could fold the thing in half to make it more manageable. And when you’re done, you’d just cram the thing into a pocket.

This is, of course, much further off than the ‘No! Holes: barred!’ phone – early examples are… sub-optimal, with a big ol’ hinge, and an unnerving bump when you try to lay the thing flat. People don’t like notches much, but Stuff suspects ridges in the middle of a screen might be a step too far.

Still, that’s your future: yelling at featureless black rectangles with less personality than a lump of tofu.

Huh. For once, sci-fi pretty much got it right.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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