Get ready to pour one out: rumor has it that LG will finally announce that it’s leaving the phones business entirely in the coming days. It’s no secret that the company’s smartphone sales haven’t been stellar in recent years, but if it does pull the plug, we’ll lose out on a phonemaker has continued to push the form and function of today’s handsets.
Granted, few of LG’s experiments have made a big impact on the phones industry: its most exciting designs just seemed to prove how intractable the ‘black rectangle’ standard for smartphones has become. The market has proven that consumers will largely buy phones in a single format that’s been honed to a high finish in the better part of the last decade; any new designs are held to that standard, and their deviation is held against them.
Then again, LG”s more exciting models simply haven’t delivered the polish that consumers have come to expect. The swing-out design of the LG Wing 5G and dual screen of the LG V60 and LG G8X have been novel, but it’s tougher to wrangle apps on their extra displays than it is on leading single-screen iOS and Android phones.
LG’s spent a lot longer experimenting with new features, some on their main phone series. The LG G5 featured modules that let you swap out the phone’s endcap for a camera grip or 360 camera (like Moto Mods, but switching out parts of the actual handset), while the more recent LG V50 had aerial gesture control that recognized hand motions by supposedly tracking your veins.
Not all of these experiments were wacky divergences from modern smartphone design, either – many attempted to solve common frustrations with quirks that didn’t quite innovate enough. The LG V10 added a secondary 2.1-inch display above the main screen dedicated to notifications and shortcuts, which kept the primary display clear when watching movies or when it was locked, and the LG G5 was probably one of the last phones to offer a removable battery to swap out for a spare.
Its predecessor the LG G4 had a curved display, optional svelte leather back (and not at sportscar edition prices), and a ‘knock code’ let you unlock the phone by tapping the screen in a specific pattern.
Neat innovation, but not top implementation
Or at least that was how the ‘knock code’ concept should have worked, but its implementation never seemed to work as advertised, and the industry-standard fingerprint scanner found on competing iPhones and Android handsets were simpler and easier to use. That might be the summation of most of LG’s experiments: novel concepts, but the execution isn’t fluidly intuitive enough to lure folks away from the status quo.
But that’s a pithy observation which ignores the market’s history: while the LG G2 reigned supreme in 2012, the company faced fierce competition from Samsung and HTC handsets, so it tried adding new quirks to stand out. If there’s anything LG is guilty of, it’s retaining this experimental mindset while the Android landscape quietly shifted to coalesce around a single design – the ‘black rectangle’ of edge-to-edge screen, single selfie camera in a notch/punch-hole, and multiple rear cameras on an otherwise unblemished back cover.
While the LG G6 follows this trend, by the time it came out in early 2017, this model was being undercut by cheaper iterations of the black rectangle by Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, and OnePlus. We know how that’s played out – and latter-day LG flagships, even solid ones like the LG V60, just haven’t offered enough for their price relative to these more affordable competitors to stand out in the marketplace.
It makes sense that LG would continue to try new designs like the Dual Screen and LG Wing, hoping for a novel yet cheap alternative to flashy foldable phones that would really connect with consumers. It turns out that the flat full main display of your average smartphone has been refined enough that new designs are now a bit too alien, which is a sad reality.
And that shouldn’t discount LG phones’ more mundane innovations that did end up changing the course of phone design. The LG G3 debuted one of the first Quad HD resolution (1440 x 2560) displays and Qi wireless charging, while the aforementioned V10 also debuted dual front-facing cameras enabling ultra-wide selfies.
If LG’s phone division goes quietly into that dark night, we’ll probably be in store for more of the same for years to come. But at least there are some among us who will remember the strides that companies used to make experimenting with phones – and making them fun, too.
The last time I showed you a semi-transparent phone, the name on the box was “Sony Ericsson” and the screen was the see-through part.Today, the name on the box is LG … and it’s the keypad that’s “crystal.”When Phones Were Fun – LG Crystal : https://t.co/ohSoLrm4jR pic.twitter.com/nc1siiWPYwFebruary 27, 2021