Teardrop or Curved: What’s the Purpose of a Reshaped iPhone 5?

Rumors have long suggested that the iPhone 5 will a new form factor, with design concepts ranging from an ergonomically curved display to a sleek teardrop shape. Should Apple adopt one of these design concepts for the iPhone 5, what will its purpose be for the consumer?

When it comes to dreaming about the new form factor for the iPhone 5, there are two sides to that dream: the front and the back. The front of the iPhone 5 is all about a larger screen, and maybe even an edge-to-edge screen, smart bezel, or some other new design concept that would enhance the mobile computing experience. But it is on the rear face of the fabled iPhone 5 that everyone hopes for a new shape.

While many have attempted to create renderings and mock-ups of how the iPhone 5 could look, most of the concepts center on two prevailing rumored shapes: teardrop and curved. The reason why these shape concepts exist is that top rumor sites claimed that Apple was indeed working on chassis (plural) for the iPhone 5 in these shapes. You’ll recall how Digitimes broke the story of Apple investing in 200 to 300 glass cutting machines for the purposes of crafting curved glass displays for an iPhone 5 design that would be similar in shape to the convex Nexus S.

There’s no doubt that a new shape to the iPhone 5 will breathe some renewed excitement into the iPhone franchise, since the iPhone 4 form factor will have been the form factor standard for about 2+ years by the time the new iPhone is released. But aside from the aesthetic shift, what do the curved and teardrop designs do to improve the iPhone 5, if at all?

Curved iPhone 5: Ergonomic

The prevailing logic behind a curved glass, curved body iPhone 5 is ergonomics. First championed by the Nexus S, the idea is that the chassis of the phone wraps around your face slightly, providing for a more comfortable telephonic experience. It remains to be seen, however, how much of a real benefit this feature is to the user. Much like the rise of 3D screens on smartphones, the rationale for an ergonomic, curved glass design has obviously not proven to be valuable enough to see mainstream adoption across the wide range of smartphones on the market today. Yes, a few others have followed suit, but by and large, consumers have not flocked to this sort of design; the iPhone 4/4S, for example, is flat as a board and continues to outsell other smartphones pound for pound.

The other factor to consider with a curved iPhone 5 design is that, if the back is also curved, the phone won’t sit flush on a flat surface. Given the amount of time that smartphones spend docked on a desk or table for charging, users may not appreciate the wobbly effect of a curved back to match the pitch of the curved front.

iphone 5 teardrop design

The "wobble" factor on this teardrop-shaped iPhone 5 would be high.

The Teardrop iPhone 5: I’m Bored to It

Even more unsubstantiated is the proposed “teardrop” iPhone 5 design, which has also made it rounds throughout the iPhone 5 rumor mill. The teardrop design, after all, was the groundbreaking new form factor that shamed iPhone case companies like Case-Mate, Hard Candy, and all of those shyster el cheap-o Chinese case manufacturers bet the farm on with their premature iPhone case ejaculations.

I have scoured the Internet in search of any article, analysis, or other piece of content that explains the purpose of a teardrop-shaped iPhone 5 above and beyond “it looks way cool.” Some renderings of the teardrop design actually show it to be a curved back but flat front. If Apple were to adopt this preposterous design, the iPhone 5 user would end up getting the worst of both worlds: they get a flat front that doesn’t curve with their face, and a wobbly back.

Still others feature a flat back that slopes downward, so that the top of the phone is rounded and thicker than the bottom — a more realistic “teardrop” design as well. In this way, the iPhone 5 wouldn’t wobble when flat, but what kind of benefit could it have to the user? The shape, after all, would seemingly throw iPhone case designers for a loop, since the case would have to be meticulously crafted to stay tightly fastened to the chassis.

The only possible functional purpose for a teardrop design would be if Apple chooses to feature a pico projector. Some have speculated on a tiny projector that could effectively project presentations, videos, photos, and anything else up onto a wall or screen from the top and/or bottom of the phone while sitting on a flat surface. A slanted, pitched screen as a result of the teardrop back could put the touch screen at a better angle for viewing in tandem with the projection.

Another idea I’ve seen related to the pico projector is to make it holographic, allowing the user to project a large virtual keyboard onto any flat surface and type on it. This kind of innovation would substantiate the pitched screen even moreso.

But truth be told, features like these are pipe dreams for right now.

In the end, my guess is that Apple likes the general concept behind the iPhone 4/4S’s form factor. They’re sticking with it. I remain unconvinced that Apple will necessarily feature an asymmetrical curved design just for the sake of aesthetics. they will have to consider functionality as well. But even if the iPhone remains flat, that doesn’t mean that Apple won’t somehow make it cooler.

By Michael Nace



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