“If you’re constantly switching modes, over a certain number of years it will degrade. You might get spots where it’s not completely transparent, or experience a weakening of the switch,” he says. The glass isn’t always easily replaceable either, because it’s not a single layer you can peel off, but instead includes both glass and polymer layers.
Dent also notes that electrochromic glass is expensive, but that in the case of a small personal device, you’re likely only using grams of the material per device. And OnePlus emphasizes that it’s not making many of these concept phones right now, so the production cost isn’t a big concern. Lau believes that as the technology matures, the cost will come down.
Now You See It
OnePlus has a reputation for bringing notable technologies to the phone market ahead of some of its larger competitors, whether that’s a frosted glass back, a pop-out camera lens that automatically retracts when you fumble the phone, or a 90hz display refresh rate. But OnePlus, which says it shares resources with the much larger Chinese phone maker Oppo, can only claim a single-digit percentage of the global smartphone market. That means these kinds of concept phones and “disappearing design” features might not make waves until some of the larger players start to implement them.
Still, there’s plenty of evidence that this design philosophy—which Lau refers to as “burdenless design”—is about to become the philosophy du jour. “A core tenet of this philosophy is having a focus on purposeful design…a total uninterrupted screen experience,” Lau says. Lenses, bumps, buttons, speaker grills, and even ports could start to fade away on personal electronics. (We may never recover from the death of the 3.5mm headphone jack.)
Newer Samsung phones—and rumored upcoming ones—include in-display fingerprint sensors and camera pinholes so small you’d never notice them with the right phone wallpaper. According to well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple may drop charging ports entirely in its 2021 crop of iPhones, and start to require its glass slabs to be charged wirelessly.
Gadi Amit, founder and chief product designer at New Deal Design in San Francisco, says these cycles in technology product design are not new. Technical requirements at first dictate the placement of certain buttons or knobs or ports, Amit says, and over time designers try to push for a more streamlined design. He points to the first mass market TV sets as examples. “When TVs first showed up in mass quantities in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were lots of knobs in front. Eventually we entered an era of design where TVs became a magical black box with no obvious features on it.”
But Amit also warns of disappearing designs that end of creating more of a burden for people, either because the product becomes less usable or, even worse, less accessible for people with impairments. “For instance, let’s say that the benefit of a protruding camera is that you know where it is, it’s tactile, and you’re not going to put your finger all over it by mistake,” he says. “It can be a double-edged sword, creating this nicer or more harmonious design.”
More Great WIRED Stories
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/oneplus-concept-one