Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Despite a global surge in smartphone volumes during the past decade, there's now less variety in smartphone designs than ever. In principle, there's now only one shape: the full-touchscreen block. It's what's under the display that counts.
Last week, Xiaomi gave the world a glimpse of what could be the next norm for smartphones: more screen than ever before. The Mi Mix, introduced as a concept phone being brought into production, is a 6.4-inch Android phone that runs on a Snapdragon 821 processor. But it's not the screen size that is tantalising, it's the Mix's near-frameless design.
We've previously noted that pushing displays past the edge was a design trend that smartphone makers would embrace to create stylish phones with more usable surface (see Is Frame-Free the Way to Be?). It's a practical way of offering consumers more and it's something we've see in the past in the Japanese market, introduced by Sharp with its Aquos Crystal products.
Xiaomi compares the design of its Mi Mix phone with the iPhone 7 Plus, which sports a 5.5-inch screen. Xiaomi claims that the two devices have similar dimensions despite the Mix's 23 percent larger display.
Using several technologies that are new to mobile devices, such as ultrasound (see The Coming Ultrasonic Boom), Xiaomi was able to reposition many of the sensors normally found on the front of a phone, allowing them to sense without being seen. The Mix's proximity sensor, for example, is hidden under the display, meaning there's no need to dedicate device real estate to what most consumers perceive to be just another dot. We expect more sensors to be hidden behind the screen.
Life beyond the bezel means smartphone displays will get bigger. Mobile subscribers consume more content on the go and are beginning to demand more screen for their consumption comfort. But when the screen is all that's exposed outside of protective cases, and all smartphone makers have access to the same components, we have to wonder if this won't lead to more style commoditisation for Android devices.
The Mi Mix might not do much to change Xiaomi's fortunes, but it has given us a glimmer of what the coming iterations of smartphones will look like. It's a display of the future.