Ctrl: An Unnecessary Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention. So goes the phrase that we use to explain the seemingly unstoppable progression of technology. We have a problem, we find a way to fix it. As long as we continue to have problems, we’ll continue to outsmart them and find new ways to think of them. Such is the origin of the smartphone—a mobile communication and productivity device borne out of an increasingly connected and interdependent world.

But, it seems this law does not always hold true. This year’s latest smartphone trend comes from a baffling lack of necessity.

Each year has its new phone trend. Last year’s was the notch, which, after debuting on the highly mocked iPhone X went on to feature in nearly every flagship phone throughout the year. The year before that it was including multiple rear-facing cameras, in order to enable the new “portrait mode” photography. This year, the early frontrunner for the phone trend of the year is the new wave of foldable phones.

For those who haven’t heard of foldable phones before, they’re basically exactly what they sound like. Imagine a small tablet that you could fold on itself to make it half as wide and twice as thick. In a way that feels impossible, the very screen of the phone folds, unlike classic flip-phones where you have two distinct pieces. The result is a marvel of engineering, but functionally a halfway house between a phone and a tablet.

I find myself asking what this new technology accomplishes. Perhaps it solves the problem of having to carry both a phone and a tablet? Though, I’m not quite sure how many people feel both devices are simply too much to carry. Okay, well then maybe it’s addressing the problem of people having to shell out money for each of the devices separately, despite having many similar uses. Unfortunately, if pricing is your concern then this certainly won’t solve that problem for you—a foldable phone will cost you $2,000 at the very least. I truly don’t see the benefits of these devices, aside from looking really cool.

It’s not even that I’m against companies radically rethinking technology. In fact, I’ve always been an early adopter, even when it costs me. I still have the very first smartwatch Motorola sold, and Microsoft’s disastrous initial foray into the ultra-portable tablet/laptop hybrid: the Surface RT. In retrospect, both of these devices were failures, but they represented genuinely exciting prospects for what technology might come to look like soon, even if they weren’t quite ready yet.

Foldable phones, on the other hand, make no attempt to rethink how we interact with technology, bringing nothing new to the table. Sure, the first looks at Oppo’s, Mate’s and Samsung’s devices look stunning, but that’s really all there is to it. Clearly, these products are the result of companies looking for ways to retrofit smartphones with this admittedly impressive new technology. If these devices are to be anything more than funky phones, they’ll have to spend time legitimately considering what foldable technology can bring to users, and not just how cool they can make the latest Galaxy look.

Contact Caio Brighenti at [email protected].