Smartphones – Will we ever get more form factors?

It might surprise you, but I’m a bit simple at heart.

OK. Who’s laughing?

I have a Samsung Galaxy SII and a laptop, that’s about it. Call it a netbook, call it an ultrabook, whatever, you can get affordable notebooks online pretty easily now and hook up to the internet. But … why? Why am I using a laptop when there’s tablets and smartphones out there with a myriad of on-screen keyboards? Why am I still shackled to an old-school computer for most of the time?

On-screen keyboards are great. I love Swype especially, but after a while I can find myself looking elsewhere. This, in some cases, is why I tend to use my trusty (but fairly old) T-Mobile MyTouch handset below. It’s got a sliding QWERTY and I can enter text using a standard physical keyboard. Here it is in all it’s battered glory…

I’ve used an iPad, I’ve used Android tablets. I’ve even used the Samsung Galaxy Note to cover the Olympics and, when I needed to be ultra-mobile, it worked very well. On-screen keyboards are brilliant, but I’m now turning into someone who absolutely has to have a physical keyboard for writing stories like this continually.

I’m probably speaking to a fairly small selection of people here, but I’d love to know how many of you feel the same. It’s something we’ve raised at Mobile World Congress too – just where are the phones with physical keyboards? Why does every phone follow a similar design? Most handsets have a big screen and a couple of buttons, but you’re restricted to an on-screen keyboard. What happened to all the clamshells and the sliders?

I for one would like to see a greater variety in designs, but unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to be happening. It’s partly because Android and other OS’s are geared towards one sizable screen and, at the moment, no manufacturer is trying to properly extend the OS.

Hmm.. perhaps I should explain that. Here’s my Motorola MPx200. It’s a proper retro phone now, nearly 9 years old. When it’s closed there’s an additional screen on the back giving you details of texts, missed calls and the time. Ohhh look! A numeric keypad! Remember those things? Simple number entry… 🙂

The HTC ChaCha was a good effort. It had a pretty small 2.6″ screen but crammed a QWERTY keyboard on. I’d love to see more clamshells and sliders selling, but with Android inside. When you’re looking for a Windows Phone, an iPhone or an Android handset, every store, every online retailer can only offer slabs.

I’m getting the feeling now that all manufacturers are hitting the same problem. Phones all have similar specs now, so each company is finding new ways of making their handsets different. It’s usually software enhancements or new services, but I’d love to see some new and innovative designs instead.

What about you ?