Cast your mind back to the mid-2000s. Nizlopi, the Pussycat Dolls and Shayne Ward all had No.1 singles, platform sandals and velour tracksuits became the in-thing, and camera phones had just been introduced. Back then, no one could've predicted how they would change the world and the way we communicate, but there is no denying, their invention was revolutionary.
It's been 22 years since the first camera phone was released and in just over two decades we've gone from 0.3MP sensors to 100MP sensors. Modern camera phones come with multiple lenses for macro, wide-angle, or telephoto shots and most have built-in stabilization, a night mode and a portrait mode, making them well-suited to shoot just about anything.
These days you don't even have to spend a lot of money to get a phone with a decent camera. Even the best budget camera phones can still take a pretty good picture – admittedly not in the same bracket as the latest iPhone 14 Pro but considerably better than the very first "cheap" camera phones. But for all the advanced features we benefit from in modern smartphones, I can't help but feel that along the way phones have gotten a bit boring.
Once upon a time, camera brands competed for innovation when it came to the design of a phone. There were flip phones, slide phones, phones that you had to twist the keyboard out, phones that looked like Gameboys and then there was the infamous Blackberry which came with a full qwerty keyboard – perfect for sending all those BBM's. From the incredibly thin (for the time) Motorola Razr to the bizarre-looking Nokia 7600, perhaps it all started going downhill for phones when the physical keyboard was replaced with a touchscreen.
Perhaps the most exciting phone to be released in the last few years is the Samsung Z Flip 4 – a touchscreen smartphone that actually folds in half. When I first found out about this new style of smartphone I wasn't convinced. Folding the actual screen sounded so far-fetched, but having used one, I am pretty impressed by how good it is and how little you can see/feel the crease line.
Most phones today look the same, though. Rectangular, touchscreen devices with a varying number of cameras depending on how adept it is at photography and videography. The number of megapixels and the amount of processing power might differ but when we get down to it – they all look the same.
Smartphones today are more powerful than they were in the 2000s, for sure. Yes, it's super convenient being able to email, send photos, look up a recipe or record a video from a device that fits in your pocket but there was a time when the look of the phone itself was important and the weirder, the better (remember the Nokia N-Gage?)
I am playing devil's advocate slightly because, as much as I think phone designs today are boring, I wouldn't go back to not having a smartphone. As a photographer, a decent camera and the ability to quickly upload images to social media make life so much easier and I'd be lost without one. But I live in hope that one day we might see a high-megapixel camera phone that has a quirky design feature.
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