Before the iPhone came out, phones looked like this:
Different shapes and sizes. Flip phones and sliders. Candybars and decks of cards. Lots of hardware buttons. A hundred takes on the D-pad. A small screen (or two). This is what mobile phones looked like from the time I bought my first in the late 90s till early 2007.
But since the iPhone debuted, they all look like this:
They're all rectangular with a screen that fills up nearly the whole front face of the phone. Some still have physical keyboards, but that's a vestigial tail that will certainly fall off at some point in the future. All have only a few hardware buttons. All have nearly the same dimensional proportions. All have nearly the same thickness, give or take some tenths of an inch. All have nearly the same weight and feel in your hand.
Why is this?
Because the future of mobile hardware design is for it to fade away completely and have the focus be the OS and apps it runs.
Nokia's Windows Phone 7 Concept
Engadget recently posted a concept design showing a new Nokia phone that would run Windows Phone 7. Predictably, it looks like an iPhone and every other smartphone that's been manufactured in the past year or two: rectangular, a huge screen, small outside bezel, thin.
It looks good, or, I should say, the tiny amount of surface area not dedicated to the screen looks good. It will probably feel good in a person's hand, but what phones don't feel good in a person's hand nowadays? They all do, because they're all designed to look the same. They're all designed to look like the iPhone. A glowing rectangle surrounded by a thin strip of material that sends data to the rectangle.
The Future Of Mobile Hardware Design
I've looked into the future and have seen what mobile devices will soon look like. I know, it sounds impossible, but here it is.
All screen, no bezel, no chrome, just interface.
Look at the mobile hardware trends in the last few years: the screens are staying about the same size but the hardware around them is shrinking. Thinner phones, thinner bezels, more focus on the screen. At some point in the future all we'll have is the screen and the software that it's running because that's all that matters.
The iPhone started the trend of the focus being on the software. Your phone becomes the app that it's running. How many people focus intently on the bezel around the screen while they're using their phone? No one does. You stare at the screen. As technology advances and miniaturizes, everything will get faster and smaller. The hardware will fade away and software will be the only thing people care about.
And it's all because of the iPhone.