We’ve reached a point in smartphone history where design doesn’t matter as much anymore. All phones look the same, with small variations, and there’s nothing that will significantly change in the next few years. The only thing that can, and will happen, to make smartphone design exciting again is the front camera being hidden under the screen. Some Android phones already have the feature, including a Samsung flagship phone, the Galaxy Z Fold. Even the iPhone will soon get a true all-screen design; though Face ID sensors will be the first to move under the display.
But now that foldables exist, there’s absolutely nothing that can significantly alter a phone’s design right now. That’s why rumors that Samsung will redesign the Galaxy S25 are nonsense to me, as is criticism that the newest iPhone looks like the older model. There’s nothing wrong with the iPhone 16 resembling the iPhone 15. And there’s nothing wrong about the Galaxy S24 looking just like the previous generation.
We hit this design plateau a few years ago when “all-screen” smartphones started coming out. I put that in quotes because the first all-screen Android phones still had large top and bottom bezels.
The iPhone X had a notch at the top, but it was the all-screen phone to challenge all Android vendors. After that, Android handset makers introduced the hole-punch display we have today. And Apple followed suit with the Dynamic Island a few years later.
That’s it. We’ve hit peak smartphone design now that we can’t extend the display size much more. That’s the only design detail that really matters. And the next meaningful innovation concerns moving cameras under the screens.
The size of the bezels should not matter in 2023 or in 2024. It did in 2017 and 2018, but now they’re so small that it’s inconsequential. Ice Universe is one of the few people who keep going on and on about bezel size on smartphones, and the Galaxy S25 that’s coming in January isn’t spared.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter if the screen curves at the edges or is flat, at least not as far as visual design is concerned. Flat screens are more durable, so it matters in that regard. The same goes for the way the phone’s chassis edges curve, or the rounded corners, which have to be more rectangular on phones that have built-in styluses like the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Don’t even get me started on the camera bump. It doesn’t matter where the rear camera is placed on the back, how much it protrudes compared to last year’s model, or how the lenses are arranged. We want great smartphone photography, so the camera bump isn’t going away anytime soon.
As for the iPhone 16 series, it’ll look a lot like the iPhone 15 models with one difference. The iPhone 16 Pro and 16 Pro Max should be larger than ever. But that’s because Apple wants to equip both handsets with zoom cameras without impacting battery life. Those tetraprism lenses will need more space inside the handset.
I also expect the Pixel 9 phones to resemble their predecessors. There’s little Google can do here.
That’s why I can only roll my eyes when I see claims like the one above. Leaker Revegnus says Samsung wants to redesign the Galaxy S starting with the Galaxy S25 series. Just like I roll my eyes when I hear the newest phone from company X has a “boring” design.
Again, significant redesigns would have been possible before the all-screen smartphones rolled out. I doubt you can really redefine anything right now. At best, you can get away with small changes.
Apple brought back the iPhone 4 design with the iPhone 12 a few years ago, that’s where we’re at with smartphone design. Samsung can’t go as far back in the past. At the time, it was busy cloning iPhones. On that note, Samsung still follows Apple’s lead, but more softly. That’s why Galaxy phones have flat edges now. Or why the Galaxy S23 will feature a titanium frame.
I will say that the adoption of titanium is a big deal for smartphone design. It’s not as much about durability as it is about the weight of the handset.
That said, you shouldn’t let a boring design stop you from getting one of the upcoming smartphones. No matter if the person designing them ever worked on Mercedes-Benz cars or not. Smartphones aren’t cars. They’re more like laptops, another device category whose design has pretty much plateaued.
As for the revolutionizing smartphone design, the best alternative you can get to a boring iPhone or Android device is a foldable phone. Now that’s something different, especially this year’s Flip-type of foldables that have large external display. Oppo, Motorola, and Samsung have such models available. The downside is they’re foldable handsets, therefore, you have to handle them with extra care.
At the end of the day, the battery life, chip performance, camera features, and screen quality are all more important features than the shape of the rectangular device you’re carrying in your pocket or purse. Come 2024, built-in personal AI features will become another big factor when deciding what phone to buy next.