How's it possible that Sony's lovely $700 Xperia XZs, a phone that’s going on sale today, already looks dated? That's the question I was asking myself yesterday while staring at the image above. Then it dawned on me: the sensor-laden forehead and chubby chin of the XZs already looks retro.
In April of 2017 we've seen very modern edge-to-edge displays on the Galaxy S8, LG’s G6, and even on the teaser pic for the Essential phone from Andy Rubin's new venture. And those all came after Xiaomi released the Mi Mix back in October. Here, have a look at these beauties and try not to swoon:
Now look at the Xperia XZs and Sony's Xperia XZ Premium flagship, Huawei's P10, and the new Moto G5 Plus. Devices all announced in February:
The phones above look old-fashioned by comparison, as does the new HTC U Ultra and even the Google Pixel, I'm afraid to say. Oh sure, they might be lightning fast and feature cutting-edge components, but their displays — the most prominent design element of any phone — already look tired. The iPhone 7 looks even worse after having kept the same industrial design for the past three years.
Apple’s next iPhone flagship is rumored to have an edge-to-edge display not unlike Samsung's Galaxy S8. It’s a redesign that’s been rumored since last year which is why I've lapsed from my normal two-year iPhone upgrade cycle. I, like many of you, want the all-display phone science fiction has been promising for decades.
Stretching that display across a handset isn’t just more beautiful, it’s also functional. People buy large phones primarily to have large displays. Going edge-to-edge gives consumers what they want in an elegant phone that can fit more easily in the hand. But doing so requires a reengineering of components like the earpiece speaker, home button, fingerprint sensor, and proximity sensor which is helping to push innovation forward.
Full-screen devices are already yielding advances like Xiaomi's cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology that replaces the earpiece on the Mi Mix, and the ultrasonic proximity sensor placed behind its display instead of the more common infrared sensor used in bezels. Apple, Samsung, and others employ Force Touch-like tech that uses localized haptic feedback beneath the glass to emulate a home button. And Synaptics is developing a fingerprint sensor that can be built directly into the display. There are still trade-offs, of course: front-facing cameras remain a challenge, and Samsung had to put the fingerprint sensor on the back of the Galaxy S8 because Synaptics wasn’t quite there.
We’re only a quarter of the way through 2017 and already large bezels have become glaring aesthetic blemishes, akin to 3D icons on flat OSes, VGA ports on laptops, and prominent 30-pin Apple connectors found on every hotel's clock radio. Phones with thick bezels are the keytars of mobility and nobody looks good holding a keytar.