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No Mini?

Elizabeth Technology April 1, 2022

The iPhone 14 isn’t supposed to have a Mini edition upon release. This is weird – because the next smallest size is like 6 inches long.

The Ideal Size

I’ve written about phone sizing before. I do still think phones should be getting thicker and smaller, because the new ones are so big that the average human hand is just barely big enough to reach across with the fingers on one side and the hand on the other. If you need to hit a button at the top of the screen one-handed, you now need to set the phone down to do so, or risking dropping it as you balance it on your fingers to move your palm for maximum thumb range. If you lose balance like that, you may not be able to catch it before it hits the ground. However, I was forced to replace my phone as I dropped my old one and broke something inside it. Now, my phone measures just over 6 inches from top to bottom – a Moto G Power, that cost 180$, a far cry from the iPhone’s 9XX$ and above. The new size is actually less of an encumberment than I was expecting, and it came with a charger, and an aux cord hole.

Enough dunking on Apple – why is 6 inches long the new default?

Aside From Functional Use

A bigger phone is a bigger, more visible phone. If it’s logo’d? The logo is more visible on the back, and the user’s hand probably isn’t covering it as much. It means more surface area for users to put things like stickers and decorative cases. A bigger phone is harder to lose and more capable of stuffing in secondary options such as a point-perfect GPS and a powerful flashlight that can stay lit for 30 minutes at a time while also still allowing the user to use the browser. The bigger the battery, the longer it lasts, too, so that bumps up the size. Phones have replaced alarm clocks, timers, GPS, mp3 players, internet hotspots, PCs, handheld games like Tamagotchis, paper games like Sudoku and crosswords, and a whole host of other small electronics designed for a singular purpose. If you’re willing to buy accessories, you can go even further, and your phone can replace things like meat thermometers and light switches. Even further, apps allow you to do things like lock your house, adjust the temperature, and watch your doorstep from your doorbell as you please, stuff you couldn’t do from a distance before phones. When you put it like that, of course the phone’s gigantic. Look at all the stuff it’s replacing!

All of the computing power and assorted hardware to make this possible does inflate the size of the phone, and while some argue that a thicker phone would be more resistant to bending (or more pleasant to hold and store, like I do), a wider, taller phone provides more functional use via a larger screen. More surface area is arguably the best outcome for a larger phone. Some phone brands go so far as to curve the glass over the side of the device so their buyer has the largest screen out of any phone with the same dimensions.  

Besides pure, compact hardware, the screens facilitate quite a few modern apps.

Media – Social

Social Media asks for increasingly more time, effort, and software from its users for the ‘best experience’, or the experience that keeps you scrolling. Prettier pictures with a convenient, easy-to-use camera like the iPhone’s camera get more likes, and are easier to generate more of, creating a self-generating cycle. Now, the phone must act as a viewfinder as well as a high-definition camera, but there’s no view hole like there were on traditional devices, so the view takes up the entire screen instead, a compromise. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to take those high-quality pictures.

On the other side, once the picture’s been posted to social media, a bigger phone means you don’t have to zoom in to see details, and people with poor eyesight or coordination can increase the size of their text and read more without swiping back and forth on the screen every five words. Is it better than a PC, or a dumbphone (aka a flip phone)? That’s down to user preference, but a bigger smartphone allows for the option.

Media – For You!

Besides picture taking and doomscrolling, a lot of people end up watching video on their phones. SmarTVs are annoying to navigate, not everyone has a SmarTV capable of searching the web for videos, and many people deliberately keep TVs out of their bedrooms anyway. The next most viable screen is their phone, which is portable, internet-connected, and has apps for websites like NetFlix, HBOMax, etc so they can watch in proper 16×9 formatting without fussing with the phone browser.

A bigger phone is less of a headache to watch, so it’s only natural that as video became more common, bigger devices would become more common with it. Some apps are also designing for that bigger screen anyway. Popular video-based app TikTok would often cover ¾ of the bottom part of the screen with the caption with my older moto, but now that’s less of a problem – the text size is unchangeable, so it was forced to adapt to the size of my screen.

Overall, larger phones are being driven by Apple, who is by far the largest smartphone brand in the US – apps have an incentive to keep up with Apple over anyone else, meaning that if other phones was the apps to look the same on their screens, they need to keep up with Apple’s sizing. If the consumer wants the giant screen but doesn’t want to pay Apple prices, that’s great! If they don’t want the big screen, they’re about to be pushed back into earlier generations of the Apple phone, or other third party phones.

Folding Phones, and the Road to Get There

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 24, 2021

Brick Phones

The first portable phones were barely portable at all. A suitcase with a battery combined with an obnoxiously heavy phone apparatus made the first portable phones more of a novelty than an everyday item, useful only for the uber-important. The next step came with a battery packed right into the part you talked at and listened from, which could get exhausting to hold up if the call was especially long. Most phone manufacturers have some version of the infamous brick, and Samsung’s was both slightly later to the market and slightly smaller than many of them, a handheld phone released in 1988 called the SH-100. It’s the first mobile phone to be both designed and manufactured in Korea, but mobile devices weren’t particularly popular at the time. The perception was sort of like the Segway; why buy an entire mobile phone for X$ when you could simply use street- and building- phones? And who’s calling you, anyway? Obviously, this changed, but the initial launch was slow, each upgrade only adding tiny slivers of market share to Samsung’s slice up until they were able to compensate for Korea’s uniquely signal-blocking topography. They began to dominate other competitors (namely Motorola), and became a serious competitor in the emerging mobile phone market!

Folding Mobile Phones

Phone manufacturers knew that phones should reach both the ear and the mouth of the user at the same time. If it didn’t, the early microphones would make their voice indistinguishably staticky, or they’d have to shout. Phones had to have a minimum length to be comfortable to use, and they had to have a minimum size and thickness for the battery. Over time, batteries became flatter and smaller – Motorola releases the first folding phone in 1996, and the rest is history.

Manufacturers and designers soon realize that this is an excellent opportunity for customers to showcase their tastes and individuality, and so optimal design took many forms: phones could rotate. They could slide. They could simply flip open, or they could pivot. The world was an oyster, and the possibilities were unlimited.

Samsung had a number of worthy entries; some were classical flip phones with num-pads, some had tiny folding joints for an especially sleek profile when closed, some slid up to reveal tiny keyboards beneath large screens, one was a slide-up with both a 9-Key and a qwerty keyboard, nothing especially special in a world dominated by physical buttons. One phone managed to mix all of the actions, and featured both physical buttons and a tilt-a-whirl screen that could make watching videos easier. Phone manufacturers were all over the place trying to make the optimal shape… and all of that changed in 2006.

The First Smartphones – A Cultural Shift

Smartphones were revolutionary. Apple was the first to make one with the touchscreen as we know it today (previous models were too big for mobile devices or not sensitive enough to work under a light touch). But as their popularity grew, so did complaints about the system. Scratches, freezing, getting hacked, having so much info in one spot, breaking easily, expense – and yet, none of the foretellings of Apple’s doom came true. The product became a must-have. Competitors now knew the tech was possible and began pouring funds into R&D.

Samsung soon released their own smartphone (unfortunately timed right around the 2008 financial collapse) called the Behold, and took off in the arms race against Apple with different touchscreen technology – a resistive screen that could be used with styluses instead of Apple’s capacitive screen.

Gradually, smartphones become the default instead of an expensive VIP gadget. As such, features were constantly improving in a never-ending arms race among competitors. The easiest to measure and the easiest to achieve was screen size, and Samsung was a determined competitor. Screen size got bigger, and bigger.

Skinny Jeans – And A Desire for Smaller Phones

There’s a reason they stopped! There was a period of time where skinny jeans and ultra-giant screens from Samsung intersected. This may not seem it, but it turned into a huge problem: the pockets were physically too small to actually hold the phone. People with backpacks and purses were fine – most everyone else was not. They’d end up holding the phone in their hand or losing it out of their back pocket when they sat, across brands. (Apple’s iPhone 6 bent under the pressure of back pockets around this same time period, although part of that was a switch to an aluminum case, not just the device’s size.) Samsung, while not famous for bending, became famous for being too large to use effectively.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 in 2014 featured a screen that was 5.7 inches tall. Women’s pockets are often smaller than men’s – it’s a legitimate phenomenon, and skinny jeans only amplified the trend. In 2019, Aberdeen research discovered that only 40% of women could fit an iPhone X in their pocket, a phone with a screen size of 5.65 inches, barely smaller than the Note 4.

 The size also made using the phone with one hand difficult, even if you did have pockets. Many people hold their phone either with their pinky beneath the bottom of the device, or with it held tight against the heel of their palm. The size of the phone meant that many people could barely navigate half of the screen with their thumb if they only had one hand available.

Between skinny jeans for everyone and an oversized phone that was difficult to use and retrieve, marketers were beginning to realize that sometimes users wanted functionality over a device that could serve as a TV. Phone size stopped increasing, and things like cameras and wrap-around screens started appearing on top of the better hardware inside Samsung’s devices. Phones also continued to ratchet up in price.

Apple – And the Death of Steve Jobs

Samsung had a battery quality control issue first identified in 2016. Many people, some experts, some not, claim that this is all that kept Apple from becoming the minority in the market during the awkward transitional period of Apple’s new leadership. Jobs’s legendary ability to see beyond what was possible and market it made him the soul of the company; without him, Apple entered a long downwards trend of hiking costs on mundane items and selling it as a lifestyle instead of an innovation. Customers noticed, many promised to switch. Surely, Samsung could now take over?

The only issue was that Apple had just stumbled, not fallen – their marketing was the issue, not the products, and re-aligning their marketing to their products (which were now more about comfort and ‘luxury’ than innovation) kept them relevant while they sorted their organizational issues out. Apple and Samsung are arguably the two most recognizable smartphone brands out there – Motorolas have more of a reputation for ‘sturdy and cheap’, and Microsoft’s smartphone failed to launch.

Still, there was desire for innovation beyond better cameras and bigger screens.

Full Circle

Samsung made a folding phone. But wait – it made a touchscreen folding phone, something previously thought infeasible! Now that customers had warmed up to incredibly expensive new phones, the price needed to make that tech possible to sell was no longer such a deterrent. You can fold your phone again, and it only costs nearly a thousand dollars to do so. You can’t protect the screen as effectively while it’s open (the fold prevents most kinds of screen protectors from being useful), and it’s still honkin’ huge, but you can fold it and keep the screen away from your keys or rocks on the ground while it’s closed.

The only thing that prevented it happening earlier is a lack of flexible material that also behaved itself right as a resistive screen, the kind of touchscreen Samsung uses. Resistive screens work by including layers of material under the glass that, when pushed together by your finger, communicate the touch to the phone. Capacitives, on the other hand, work by your hand’s interference with the screen’s capacitance field, detecting the touch that way. Resistive screens will work when you’re wearing gloves, but capacitive ones won’t. Resistive screens also work with styluses – capacitive ones need their own special kind. Whether or not Apple, who uses capacitive screens, will be able to follow along, remains to be seen.

How Did They Do It?

Firstly, all of the mechanisms that other smartphones use have to be modified – that doesn’t matter so much for the CPU, but it matters tremendously for the battery, which is now below-par for other smartphones in the same price range.

Secondly, the phone is thicker – and now it has a joint in the middle. Earlier versions of the concept didn’t want to go back to the folding joint seen in flip phones, but they also didn’t want to compromise on size. The result was usually something too thin to drop or squeeze – remember, most phones are made out of aluminum or some kind of alloy, and the average person can already bend a smartphone with their bare hands. Samsung’s leaning towards ‘rectangular prism’ instead of ‘sheet of paper’ makes the device sturdy enough to withstand opening and closing over and over, even though the screen is soft.

Thirdly, the screen is soft! And still capable of operating as a resistive screen. This is possibly the biggest issue facing the screens themselves, and earlier versions of Samsung’s folding phones faced frequent complaints of scratches and dust ‘leaks’ inside the device, both of which were only made worse due to the lack of screen protectors available for their devices. Finding something tolerably soft and yet tolerably resistant to scratches required quite a bit of legwork by Samsung. Only now is the special polymer both cost-effective (as much as it can be for a thousand-dollar phone) and functional.


Reasons to Recycle your Phone


1.Lithium batteries are not biodegradable.


In general, modern materials don’t really degrade much. When was the last time something you owned rusted away completely? And if it did – did it really? The spot below the cheap, neglected grill in my friend’s back yard has no grass in it. The rust is still there to interfere with that grass’s growth, even though it’s technically degraded. That grass may eventually come back if the rain ever washes enough of the contaminated dirt away, but until then, the ground is inhospitable. Now picture that with metal that’s not designed to spoil, and chemicals that are much harsher. Batteries are by far one of the most concerning items to trash. They tend to corrode and release acid if not disposed of properly, and the bigger the battery, the bigger the concern for acid to leach into whatever it’s laying on top of. You don’t want something you threw away to make a mini-superfund site, surely?


2. They also don’t behave well when the internals are exposed to air.

You cannot just dump a phone in the trash when you’re buying a new one. Besides the environmental effects (which can be anywhere from acid leaching to heavy metal poisoning, depending on battery type) there’s also a real danger of starting an unquenchable fire in a garbage truck. If it’s one of the fancy ones that can compact garbage as it picks it up, the battery being punctured can set off a fire inside the bin. If you’re unlucky, and others have thrown out paper trash or flammables, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. Recycle the phone! If not the phone, then at least the battery!


3. The phone contains rare earth metals.


These are metals that are common in the Earth’s crust, but very difficult to actually mine out and purify economically. After a point, mining them might make phones too expensive for the average consumer – so it’s important to harvest what parts are harvestable! Besides that, the phone itself isn’t going to bio-degrade because it’s completely inorganic. Rather than let all those precious minerals and non-degrading materials go to waste, recycle!

4. The hard drive may not be wiped the way you hope it is.


It’s very possible to recover deleted documents off of a hard drive months after ‘wiping’. Wiping a traditional hard drive completely is difficult, and solid states only make it harder. The hard drive still has a phantom copy of the old doc until it’s written over with something else, or grazed with a magnet. Doing this thoroughly is difficult, which is why you should recycle through a reputable hardware recycler. This is especially important for things like email apps, which frequently don’t ask users to log in after the first time they’re used on the phone!

5. Having a secondary market is essential for the health of the industry.


If the number of workable phones is low, people are forced to buy the new model because it’s all they can find. This is why planned obsolescence is so insidious. They’re deliberately cutting down the market for their users so they can sell more new phones at a high price. If this was a perfectly efficient world where consumers had perfect information, this would lead to the company dying, because nobody wants to pay 700$ for something that breaks in three years. But it’s not – it’s a world where people drop an extra $200 on a phone for its camera. It’s a world where the phone carrier forces you to upgrade as part of their contract. It’s a world where branding is the fashion. It is not perfectly efficient, and as long as the manufacturers recognize this, they will make attempts to money-grub.

Keep those second-hand phones in the market and force manufacturers to keep making phones at least as well as their old products. This is still recycling! It’s keeping the phone from its final death in a landfill, and extending it’s life for as long as possible.


6. Broken Phones Still have Valuable Parts


If the phone’s so broken that it’s not possible to re-sell it, consider recycling it anyway – lithium batteries have many uses, and as mentioned before, those rare earth metals aren’t getting any less rare. Recycling the phone by sending it somewhere to get it broken down is also valid recycling. If you can squeeze just a little bit more use out of a device by dropping it off or passing it on – why wouldn’t you?

Besides, the facility will know how to handle that battery!





Portable Phones: A Brief History and Selection

The smartphone of today has a lot of ancestors, and some of them were pretty bulky.

Translated to Modern Times

The first couple of portable phones were… weird.

The brick phone: the brick phone’s pretty well-known! It was sometimes used in movies to demonstrate how high tech the star’s organization was. Portable phones were huge for a long time, so a brick phone being slightly less huge than the suitcase phone or the car phone was cool. DynaTAC’s version was initially the most popular in 1984, and it took 10 hours to charge enough for 30 minutes of talk time.

The car phone: it was new! It was innovative! It was stylish! Luxury cars were the primary installees of car phones, as the phone itself was both expensive and heavy, and relied on the car’s power to actually run. This came before the brick phone and ran concurrent to it for quite a while, and gradually faded out of manufacturing as mobile technology got better and better.

The suitcase phone: the suitcase phone carried all of its important bits and bobs in a suitcase, discretely, so the caller didn’t have to hold the weight of the battery up to their ear to talk. The original case for the suitcase phone was kind of ugly, but having the tech at the time made it worth it.

Pay Phones: This wasn’t technically mobile, but it was possible to find one out and about in public, and that was usually good enough. Most pay phones even in earlier days took payment first and then would place the call, an artifact of the quick-call stations and cashiers that they replaced.

Slides and Other Moves

Manufacturers got pretty wild when designing devices for children in the 2000s.

The Razr phone opened with one screen pivoting away from the other on a joint, so the top screen was upside down when it was closed. The keyboard inside it was tragically small – texting was even more of a hassle, and the screen was tiny. It was also sometimes awkward to hold while on a call, but the unique design meant it took up very little pocket real-estate, so it all evened out. Not a good phone for games or texting, but fine for the kids it was marketed to.

If you were fancy, you’d get a slider phone: the top screen would slide upwards to reveal a full keyboard with tiny, tiny little keys underneath. Back in this era, the screen being exposed was considered a real risk: what if your keys or coin change scratched it? Then what? If only they could have seen what we’d have now. These phones were a little more expensive than other phones on the market, but they made texting a little easier. Txt speak was still more efficient because the keys were so tiny it sometimes took the edge of your nail to actually press them, but it was the thought that counted.

And if your parents had business obligations that sometimes meant emailing from their phone, you might have had access to a hand-me-down BlackBerry: all the buttons were on the same plane as the screen. There were the crude beginnings of a ‘free roam’ cursor for phones, a track ball that behaved the same way arrow keys did but faster.

Flips N Such

The flip phone I had also had the 9-button keyboard: it was designed for calling first, and texting second. It could open a browser… kinda… if all you wanted to see was broken graphic boxes and white squares. Internet access over a 3G or below network was slow and expensive, so you weren’t exactly meant to read the news on it. The ringtone store also didn’t work all of the time. It was great. An ordinary flip phone was difficult to break and easy to answer calls on, so it was perfect for kids of the time. You could play games on it, but not very many, and you could text, but only slowly. It wasn’t an active distraction.

However, that slow texting could get annoying when the phone was allowed out. That’s the source of modern text speak: if you wanted to type out Good Morning, for example, you’d hit the 6 button a total of 16 times to get all the letters stored in that key while writing. Shortening to Gd Mrng only made sense – you’d tap the 6 key 5 times to get two characters, a much better ratio. To compare it to telegramming, the fewer taps there are, the faster the message gets out. Only using the number was also often faster, too: “Before” takes a total of 21 keystrokes, while B4 takes three. Three.

Decorative casings for smartphones

For a brief period of time, pocket-unfriendly phone cases hit the market. From the hamburger phone to the rotary phone purse, all sorts of weird add-ons and cases designed to make the phone look like something else graced Hot Topic and other ‘teen’ stores. Nowadays, most cases are pretty close-fitting to the phone, likely because people realized bulky phones had been shrinking over the years for a reason. Still, quite a few of these oversized cases were popular, particularly with classmates who always had a bag and/or lacked pockets in the summer. They were cute, they offered better corner cushioning (dropping an iPhone used to be catastrophic), and quite frankly I wouldn’t be too sad to see them come back.

Modern Times

Nowadays, phones come in many colors and sizes, but generally one shape. The smartphone’s ease of storage and use makes it a winner among telecommunications. Cases tend to be close fitting to the phone, now, but a lack of character cases is a small price to pay for full access to the internet, email, phone, texting, all sorts of telecommunications that the first sci-fi writers could have only imagined. Flip phones are still around, and they’re a great option for a lot of people, but generally they’re not a first choice for reasons mentioned above. That being said, they are a lot tougher overall than an average un-cased smartphone, and significantly cheaper. Just look at how many memes there are about the Nokia!

Samsung’s new folding phone is a loop back to the olden days, but it’s obviously not exactly the same as the flip phones of yore. Screens cover both halves of the folding bits, and it’s designed more to prevent scratching than to provide convenience, like the first ones did.

A Sidenote: The first “Txt Speak”

Telegraph operators use abbreviations anyone might recognize: BRB, GTG, etc. all for the sake of cutting time. Morse code and push-button flip phone strategies are a lot alike in a lot of ways: shorten the message to make transmitting it easier. Whether it’s taps or clicks, shortening speech by cutting vowels has always been around.

Abbreviations can cause confusion, yes, but telegraph operators were paid to go fast, not to be perfectly understandable.

Sources: (Wikipedia does a fine job at an overall explanation)