Over the past five years or so, there’s been a trend of smartphones looking more alike than ever before, regardless of who makes them. Ultra-thin bezels on the front, a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera, and some combination of glass, aluminum, and plastic.
The only real difference comes in the screen size, weight, and the camera array on the back. So when the Galaxy S24 was announced, it’s pretty obvious why so much time was spent on the software, outside of Samsung bringing Titanium to the Ultra. Sure, there was also talk about how other materials are being used that are “safe for the planet,” but let’s be real, nobody actually cares about that.
Besides all of the Galaxy AI additions, I came away feeling a bit bored. Not because of the software, but because Samsung is fully embracing the “Apple for Android” moniker. The Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S24 are practically identical, with arguably the biggest change coming in the form of the flat display on the S24 Ultra as Samsung is finally moving away from the annoying curved screens.
A question that kept coming back to me was, “What’s next?” I mean, it’s not just a Samsung problem, but where does the design for smartphones go from here? It’s part of the reason why I’m a believer in foldable phones because it’s a medium that’s still maturing and there’s room for innovation.
Of course, I’m just sitting here writing words on the web and have zero design experience. But I can’t help but feel as though this is the best that we’re going to get. Google has its unique camera bar, but even that is more of an evolution of the Nexus 6P. Other brands, like Oppo/OnePlus, have started moving the cameras to the center of the back, housing all of the camera sensors in a comically large module.
Honestly, I kind of like that the OnePlus Open has a centered camera module. It’s better for lining up pictures, but it also made it possible for OnePlus to give us the best cameras that we’ve seen in a foldable phone. You can argue that the Pixel Fold is still a better camera experience, but much of that is in the software processing, whereas the Open’s physical sensors are much more flexible.
On the other side, Samsung is sticking with its trypophobia-inducing camera setup that just “pokes” out of the back glass. Now that Samsung has moved to the flat screen, maybe the camera module is next. Or maybe it’ll introduce an Action Button of its own. With my luck, that’s exactly what will happen, but we’ll only be able to use it with Bixby until a developer manages to figure out a workaround.
The funny thing, to me, at least, is that Apple gets blasted every year when it releases the same phone design for years. The onslaught of memes is never-ending, but in reality, Samsung is just as guilty. It’s even so bad to the point that while the overall design looks essentially the same, there’s just enough of a difference that you can’t even re-use the same cases. As I pointed out with the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra, the changes are so subtle that all of the accessories you’ve accrued end up in the bin.
I don’t have an answer for what could possibly be next for the design of slab phones. And that’s probably for the better because I won’t know whether I like something or not until it’s leaked or announced. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that we’ve reached “peak smartphone design,” and this is pretty much it.