Tech Talk: Japanese OEMs Are Getting A Lot Of Things Right

Have a look at the phone in the image above. That is the Sharp AQUOS Crystal, a gloriously-built phone packing a strange and innovative design. Although the phone itself flopped in most territories, held back mostly by its low-end specs, that sort of design is just one thing that Japanese OEMs are getting right, and the rest of the world should take note. While many trends, like water resistance, came from Japan and are beginning to find a worldwide foothold, there are many more trends from Japan that global smartphone makers may do well to adopt.

For starters, as stated above, Japanese phones tend to have pretty nice designs. Why is this? Because they're designed with a purpose. Japan is a practical land, mostly full of practical people. Even a smartphone made to be beautiful, like the one above, is still practical. For example, the ultra-slim bezels allow more screen to go in a smaller space, while the bottom front-facing camera captures a more flattering upward angle for selfies. Otherwise, the phone is rather square and Spartan, and that's not a bad thing. HTC is playing around with their metal build formula. Samsung is putting edges on just about everything. LG is messing around with modular design. Motorola is sacrificing beauty in the Moto Z line for the ability to swap in mods, and their other lineups are continuing to ape mostly the same look made famous by the likes of the original Moto X and the Nexus 6. While some on that list may be creating concepts or filing trademarks with things like foldable displays, innovation in design has seriously slowed, and when it's there, it's not refinement, it's an attempt to change smartphones at their core. Japanese phones, by and large, avoid these trends.

On that note, let's talk about flip phones. Go ahead and Google "Android Flip Phone". If you're a power user, want something thin or want something with massive developer support, it's fairly doubtful you'll find something you like. Japanese companies are working toward changing that, and everybody else should too. Not for the few people who already love Android flip phones, but to push for them to become mainstream. Everybody spurred candy bar phones without a keyboard at one point, and now that same crowd is mostly all pointing at the BlackBerry Priv and laughing as it languishes into obscurity. Meanwhile, there's a somewhat sizable crowd that either wants a vertical keyboard but doesn't want the locked-down Priv or the keyboard attachment for Samsung's latest and greatest. Where do these people get their flagship fix? Sure, they could grab a Bluetooth slider kit for the Galaxy S5 and rock a soon to be obsolete device at twice its normal thickness and have to charge the keyboard separately, but why should that be the only option? There are also no more cute square phones like the Motorola FLIPOUT, which became outdated and didn't sell well mostly due to its exclusivity, though some may have been turned off by its quirky form factor. There are no more dual-screened phones like the Kyocera Echo, either, despite the fact that the Echo flopped mostly due to underwhelming specs and battery life so poor that Sprint sold it with an extra battery. The people who want these types of phones should have high-end options. Manufacturers may be staying away from experimentation because it may not be profitable, but if you make an amazing device that just happens to have a weird form factor, people may just come to love that form factor. Pointing again to the Galaxy S line, people scoffed at the original Galaxy S, were mildly impressed by the wonderfully-received S2, and by the time the S3 hit the market, people were so in love with it that they were ready to accept the death of their beloved hard keyboard. The same could happen in reverse, or for any form factor.

The third big point to touch on, also somewhat related to design, is thickness. While Japanese phones are getting more and more slim, just like the rest of the world's devices, Japanese OEMs don't tend to shy away from a bigger battery in favor of a slimmer form factor. After all, who cares if your phone is thinner than a pencil if that means that two hours of YouTube or one intense gaming session is enough to send you scrambling to an outlet? There is a compromise to be found that balances thinness, handling, and battery, and it seems like Japanese OEMs are very close to finding it. On that same token, the batteries that they are putting in these thicker phones are not only bigger, they charge rather quickly and manufacturers put the average charge times right on the spec sheets. Imagine if, rather than having to find out what phones are available to you and read reviews, you could walk into your local carrier store or cell outlet and read the battery life and charge time on the spec card.

To round out the discussion, let's talk for a minute about the smaller features often found in Japanese handsets that see varying levels of worldwide adoption. For one, an FM radio is a good talking point. A lot of phones either have it or support it, but it's deactivated in certain territories. An FM radio means music without eating data, and the choice to listen to radio stations without using an app like iHeartRadio. Dual sim capability is less prevalent in some countries than others, but the utility is undeniable. From the use of a burner SIM in a daily driver phone to a data plan from one carrier and voice from another, many people in many countries could benefit from a larger number of dual-sim devices. Between these small changes and some of the bigger ones listed above, the worldwide market adopting some trends common in Japan would very likely be a win for everybody involved.

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