The Perfect Smartphone Form Factor

Smartphone Slab

Are we settled on the touchscreen slab, then? Because I’m not.

I understand that a big block of mostly screen — the iPhone form factor, if you’d rather — has a lot going for it. It’s great for watching full-screen video, the UI rotates with you when you change from portrait to landscape and an entirely new interface is but a software update away.

iPhone and Galaxy users still enjoy the comforts of a physical home button; Google’s Nexus line eliminates even that. But if no buttons is the endgame of smartphone innovation, how come we can’t seem to shake the ones for volume and  power?

Me, I like buttons. Lots of them, preferably in a qwerty layout.

I’ve used the major software keyboards for Android. Swype is certainly innovative, and not bad for one-handed use. The auto-completion of SwiftKey is scary accurate at times. Even the stock Android keyboard has gotten a lot better over the years. But with all of them I still feel like I’m settling. If I need to hammer out a message fast or reply at length to an email, the limitations of a non-tactile keyboard become apparent in short order.

My perfect form factor for a smartphone would be a vertical slider with a qwerty keypad underneath, like a BlackBerry Torch or Motorola Spice. Landscape sliders, a design that still exists in some low to mid-range Android handsets, don’t do it for me. I had a HTC TyTN back in the day and could never text on it with one hand. But with a vertical slider you can make do, and a keypad that’s narrower means that your thumbs won’t have to stretch as far using two hands. Plus you get a very tactile and satisfying way to answer a call — just open up the slider and start talking.

A candy bar qwerty might be more durable, but with a 16×9 1020p screen I imagine it would look fairly ridiculous.

And hey, if something better comes along I’m game, but somehow I don’t think it will. I feel that hardware innovation has stagnated. No doubt about it, the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone interface. But that was what, six years ago now? I think these tiny computers that we carry with us everywhere are due for another design disruption anytime now.

In the absence of that, what would be your perfect smartphone form factor, if the sky was the limit and you could put any mobile OS on any device?