When you look around at the type of mobile phone that the average person is using you’ll notice that the majority of phones are flip based. I’m talking about the average person like your mother, Aunt, Cousin, Grandparents, etc… Not the techno-geeks or early adapters. Just the average Joe and their phone. They’re typically cheap flip based devices that offer nothing more than the ability to make phone calls and send some text messages.
So what am I getting at? Well, there is a demand for the flip form factor. There’s no question that there are a number of dumb flip phones on the market today. But where are all the smart ones? RIM recently announced a new BlackBerry device to their line-up, the BlackBerry Pearl Flip. None of the other smartphone manufacturers have a flip phone in their product lineup. HTC did have that SmartFlip device, which was a pretty nice first attempt at making a flip phone. Especially if you had the Cingular version with more memory and a larger battery. Before that, we had Motorola, who made 2 different flip based smartphones – the MPX 200 and 220. While the 220 was plagued with problems, both devices where extremely popular for their time. That’s it for the Windows Mobile camp. Sony Ericsson had that P990 Symbian based device a number of years back. However, that wasn’t really a flip phone. It was more a PDA with a protector that covered the keyboard. And Nokia has the Communicator device, but that’s not a flip phone, it’s more of a clamshell. You can still make and answer calls without flipping the phone open. You only need open the phone to use the keyboard. Aside from the Communicator, Nokia does have a Series 60 flip phone – the N76. However, the N76 is already 2 years old.
It certainly looks like all the major manufacturers are ignoring this market segment, except for RIM. I don’t understand why these companies are avoiding such a popular form-factor. There’s no doubt that people like the flip design, so why not offer more smartphone devices with it? I can understand that there is some concern because of the hinge and the risk of that breaking, but I think the majority of manufacturers have been able to make solid hinges that don’t easily break.
The only other concern that I can think of is that the form factor doesn’t allow for easy text entry. Most standard flip phones are using T9 with the standard 12 key layout. Smartphone users tend to want a full QWERTY layout. While this could be hard with the traditional flip phone, I can’t imagine it being a show stopper. I actually prefer the landscape screen found on most messenger style devices over the portrait screen found on the typical flip phone. Combine the full QWERTY with the landscape screen and you’ll have a wider flip phone than most. Nothing’s wrong with that. The option is to use the portrait screen with a SureType-like keyboard. This would provide the traditional flip form factor.
I can’t imagine any other reasons on why this design hasn’t happened yet. I’m growing sick of the traditional smartphone designs. It’s time for a change, let’s see if any manufacturer is willing to step up to the table.