How many different ways can you build a phone inside what’s effectively a rectangular box? The answer seems to be, not very many if the launch of the iPhone 12 is anything to go by.
Unveiled by the company in the live-stream event, the Apple iPhone 12 line-up includes four brand-new models: the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Max. All are packed with some smart technology, including 5G, Super Retina XDR displays and the new A14 Bionic SoC.
We were also promised an “all-new design that’s simply stunning”, but what was rolled out didn’t look so much like evolution as a step back in time to the days of the iPhone 5. While more recent iPhone models over the last few years have had smooth, curved edges, the iPhone 12 has squared-off edges.
Looking at the side profile, particularly, it gives the new phone more of a feel of the iPhone 5 (itself an iterative widescreen improvement on the first few generations). And, the design of the iPhone 5 was to be so popular that it stayed around for the 5S and the SE.
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Obviously, there are some differences: the iPhone 12 uses rectangular side buttons, has a screen that’s almost the full size of the case (the Home button is well and truly gone) and a single aluminium back panel compared to the banded design on the rear of the iPhone 5. Yet, at a distance, or with both phones sitting down, the new phone looks strikingly like the old one.
Is it a bad thing? It depends on your point of view, but the squared design of old always felt a bit easier to grip than the more recent curved design, as your fingers have more surface area to wrap around. And, as I said before, there are only so many ways to design a phone, which is basically a cuboid object.
In fact, the real departure we’ve seen in phone design has been through phones with multiple screens or foldable displays. And, let’s face it, while these phones might look cool, they’re not quite ready for prime time yet.
Then there’s the fact that once you’ve put your phone into a case, you can’t really see it any more anyway. So, while design is important to a degree, that fact that we’ve hit an era where displays dominate the front case, it means that one phone looks much like another anyway. Features, performance, OS and screen quality are more important indicators of quality, and that’s what we’ll be able to tell you about when we get our hands on a review sample soon.