Skip to main content

When the iPhone doesn’t change, Android phones get weird

When the iPhone doesn’t change, Android phones get weird

/

With nothing new to clone this year, phone makers are having to get creative

Share this story

The Nubia Alpha wearable smartphone
The Nubia Alpha wearable smartphone.
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

We’re living in a funny sort of ultra-connected time where no consumer tech company can keep its secrets secret. So when I gaze out toward the approaching Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I can already tell you that it will bring perhaps the most diverse selection of smartphone forms, sizes, designs, and specifications we’ve yet seen. MWC 2019 will be defined by this diversity, with companies straining at the edges of conventional design to try and come up with an original idea, an attention-grabbing concept, or just a good old gimmick that will differentiate their product from all the rest. In simple terms, things are going to get weird.

Over the many years that I’ve been attending MWC, I’ve also noticed two primary routes of advancement for the majority of phone manufacturers.

Path A is to copy Apple. Let’s just be upfront about it. Copying the iPhone is how Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei — the three others in the top four global smartphone manufacturers, beside Apple — got their start, and it’s served many other companies well. This method involves taking your existing flagship device, comparing it to the current iPhone plus rumors about the next iPhone, and then bringing your design closer to that ideal. Examples? You couldn’t walk 10 steps at MWC last year without seeing notched iPhone X copycats, and Asus’ was one of the most egregious, if only because of the company’s size and stature as a PC component maker.

Path B is to pursue being first without regard for much else. This approach assumes that the consumer is fickle, easily distractible, and unsatisfied with merely incremental improvements. The more dramatic the novelty and the more visually appealing and recognizably different it is, the better. No one is immune to this line of thinking, and its basic premise is correct: when Samsung tried to reissue the Galaxy S8 as a more refined but not-really-different S9, the market responded by slashing its sales. Hence the introduction of the Galaxy Fold headline-grabber of this week.

2019 is a path B kind of year.

After the major redesign of the iPhone with the iPhone X, Apple didn’t really do much of an overhaul of its smartphone in the fall of 2018. So anyone still trying to ape the iPhone this year is basically going to be late to the party. That’s already been done. Over the course of 2018, though, display technologies moved forward, new mechanical designs such as the periscope pop-up cameras emerged, and even sliders made a comeback.

Every company attending MWC wants to maximize its exposure (with the possible exception of ZTE, which seems to be keeping a low profile due to its uncertain future), and in order to do that, almost every company is going a little wild with its design. Let’s review some of the standout examples that leaks and pre-event reports suggest we will see over the course of the next week.

Image: Evan Blass
  • Sony will be using a cinematic 21:9 screen on the next Xperia flagship phone. This is going to make a very tall — or wide, when held sideways — phone, and it’s sure to stir conversation. It brings to mind the charmingly quirky LG BL40, a 2009 handset that had a striking look and was made out of lovely materials, but it offered lackluster ergonomics and performance.
  • Nokia will be putting five cameras on the back of its new flagship. Granted, Samsung and LG have made the idea of five and six cameras on smartphones feel almost normal, but having a full array of five on just one surface is still quite the feat from Nokia. The Nokia 9 PureView has been the subject of leaks for many months, and the particular arrangement of the five lenses on its back is going to be a memorable design for a while to come.
  • Oppo is building a phone with an optical 10x zoom. Using a clever system of mirrors and lenses arrange laterally inside the phone, Oppo has already demonstrated the ability to deliver 5x zoom via optical rather than digital means. Going to 10x is even more impressive, and the expectation for MWC is that the tech will make it into an actual retail device.
  • Huawei will respond to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold with its own 5G foldable phone-tablet hybrid. That device, as yet unnamed and still mostly mysterious, will likely be the poster child for MWC 2019. It will combine the two big hype trends of 5G and foldables, though exactly how much of it we’ll get to see or touch is up for debate.

1/20

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge
  • Nubia will be bringing its Alpha wearable smartphone to MWC, and we may be justified in anticipating the company will put a price and release date on the device for markets outside its native China. I saw the Alpha back in September at IFA, when it was in a decidedly unfinished state, so MWC may be counted as the wrist-worn phone’s more proper debut.
Image: CNET
  • TCL, the big-time TV maker that also happens to sell phones under the Alcatel, BlackBerry, and Palm brands, looks set to debut a flexible display device of its own. In fact, a report suggests there are as many as five foldables in TCL’s portfolio, with one of them being a phone that people will be able to wrap around their wrist. There’s a good chance that MWC will see at least part of this portfolio.

Beyond those particular brands and devices, we’ll definitely see more foldables, and there’s even been a rumor that LG will do a second screen as an accessory for its upcoming G8 ThinQ flagship. With multiple companies already building phones with displays on the front and the back, and with the trend of sliders and pop-up selfie cameras only growing, MWC 2019 is shaping up to be an absolute cornucopia of divergent design. I can’t wait.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

R
Twitter
Richard LawlerTwo hours ago
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


M
The Verge
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
Youtube
Richard LawlerSep 26
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.