Anxious iPhone users fear that Apple may re-use the iPhone 4′s form factor on the new iPhone 5. But truth be told, no other smartphone even comes close to the iPhone ’4 originality. Read how — antennagate aside — the iPhone’s form factor is still cutting edge.
On a slow iPhone 5 news day like today, it presents a perfect opportunity to take on the issue of the next iPhone’s form factor. As you are aware, the iPhone 5 News Blog, along with a host of other tech media outlets, have received credible information to suggest that the next iPhone will in fact utilize the same form factor on the iPhone 4, with only nominal changes to address the antenna issue as well as any new hardware features. This possibility has led to a high level of consternation on the part of many iPhone users, who would consider an iPhone 5 with an iPhone 4′s form factor to be an epic fail on the part of Apple, branding the iPhone 5 as a mere refresh of the iPhone 4.
This sentiment, however, seems to be more about a perception than reality; for iPhone users, the changing of a form factor represents a significant overhaul of the phone itself, signaling to them that it must indeed be a technological breakthrough from the previous model. but from a pur design perspective, the iPhone 4′s form factor is still as yet unparalleled in the smartphone martketplace. In fact, Android phone are currently just trying to catch up to the iPhone 3Gs’s form factor.
I need not espouse the specs of the iPhone 4 in technical detail, as its conflation of glass and metal, as well as its juxtaposition of of sharp, square lines with soft, rounded edges is a masterwork of aesthetics and ergonomics. While the smaller screen and use of hardware buttons are now ascribed to the form factor of the iPhone and seem outmoded compared its larger-screened, button-diminished competitors, the sum of those few parts — however important they may be to users — do not equal the iPhone’s form factor. And apple does have the means to replace manual buttons with touch-sensitive gesture buttons of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 while still maintaining the general form factor of the iPhone 4.
The iPhone 3Gs form factor -- still curvy.
Android 2011: A Study in 3Gs
One of my favorite albums of the 1990s was Radiohead’s OK Computer. Released in 1997, it was a landmark album for rock music, with the band combining earnest songwriting and guitar-based rock songs with art rock-inspired arrangements. It signaled a transition for Radiohead into what would become a litany of avant garde albums, including Kid A, which proceeded OK Computer. The music world was immediately influenced by OK Computer, with tons of bands referencing and ripping off its ideas.
When Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke was confronted in an interview about how bands were copying OK Computer‘s sound, he simply replied, “Good luck with Kid A.”
I think Steve Jobs might say the same thing with respect to the iPhone 4 and 3Gs form factors. While Android smartphones are challenging the iPhone on features such as larger and 3D screens, better cameras, 4G, and processing power, the form factors fail to impress — and seem to be diritive of the iPhone 3Gs more than the iPhone 4.
Like the curvy embonpoint of technology’s only seductress, the rear of the iPhone 3Gs is still unrivaled by its Android competitors, some 2+ years since its release. But the more plaintive front of the iPhone 3Gs
The Nexus S Form Factor: a shameful knockoff of the iPhone 3Gs
seems to be the best the Android universe of smartphone designs can come up with, copying its face and general curvy lines in use with smartphone designs that are debuting just this year.
Take the Nexus S, for example. The lines of its form factor are clearly derivative of not the iPhone, but rather the 3Gs. It, too, tries to copy the curvy back of the 3Gs, but fails to achieve the clean minimalism that apple is so famous for.
From a form factor standpoint, it simply fails to impress.
But the 3Gs-inspired Android smartphone form factors go from bad to worse with the Droid Bionic. Motorola has always been known for crafting more spartan-esque mobile phone designs — the kinds that are more apt to survive a falling girder on a construction site than turn heads at a nightclub. But for a top-tier Android smartphone, the Droid Bionic has a dull form factor that only resembles the 3Gs in its contours.
Granted, the Droid Bionic does make ample use of its front side to accommodate a 4.3″ screen — a lesson that apple could learn something from — but it can be said that no angle of the Droid Bionic flatters itself, and lends no aesthetic pleasure to the smartphone experience. Non iPhone users may scoff at such an idea, but that’s precisely the kind of thing that separates an iPhone user from an Android user: Apple fans take pleasure in the beauty and design of its products, whereas Android users simply get geeky over their smartphone’s features.
But no Android smartphone tries to channel the iPhone form factor more than the Samsung Galaxy S 2.
More than any other smartphone that competes with the iPhone, Samsung’s GS2 touts its supposedly beautiful, unique design and lines like no other Android smartphone before it. And for good reason: no other smartphone represents iPhone pastiche more than the the GS2.
In an almost hilarious twist, the SG2 is to offer different features and form factors across its three U.S. mobile carriers, with the AT&T version sporting a smaller screen and squared off form factor that is conspicuously similar to the iPhone 4 — perhaps the only smartphone that even approaches the iPhone 4′s looks. The GS2 to debut on T-Mobile and Sprint, however, channels the round features of the 3Gs once again — albeit with a beefy 4.5″ screen.
The three faces of the Samsung Galaxy S 2
Still Good Enough for the iPhone 5
Perhaps the real fear that iPhone users have of the iPhone 5 employing an iPhone 4 form factor is that the current design doesn’t allow for a 4″+ large screen. And a Digitimes article corroborates this fear: “The sources added that the iPhone 5 will adopt a 3.5- to 3.7-inch panel with a design to allow the bezel of the panel to become thinner and make the screen look larger.” In this way, the iPhone 5 would feature an “edge to edge” screen that would indeed look bigger, while not adding a great deal of actual screen size.
An iPhone 5 form factor rendering with metal back.
In spite of that possible disappointment, Apple can work with the iPhone 4 form factor as a template to do some new things. As Digitmes points out, their sources say the ”iPhone 5′s back design will be changed to a metal chassis instead of reinforced-glasses.” The result could be nothing less than an elegant iPhone 4 form factor made even more elegant on the iPhone 5, as seen in this rendering.
It is still quite possible that the iPhone 5 will in fact reveal a completely overhauled form factor and design, complete with the larger screen that many people are clamoring for. But as iPhone users, we should be careful what we wish for: would it be worth a larger screen on the iPhone if the overall form factor failed to impress? Would we really want the iPhone 5 to look like that GS2-esque icon that appeared on Apple’s photostream graphic? In the end, Apple’s uncanny ability to understand what its customers want even better than the customers themselves might be a better prospect for us all.