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Apple and Google should steal these ingenious smartphone concepts

Simple physical gestures could give users more control over the way their smartphones work.

The past two years have marked the return of the dumbphone. As the world’s addiction to smartphones spun out of control, Nokia, Punkt, and NBA superstar Steph Curry himself stepped in alongside Palm to offer stripped-down phones built for calls and texting only. But carrying a dumbphone is the equivalent to cutting off your nose to spite your face. You really want to live in the modern era without access to Lyft rides, Instagram memes, and YouTube sensations?

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The more likely solution, for most of us, is that we learn healthier habits around our smartphones–with a little help from the drug manufacturers selling them to us. That’s the theory behind these Smarter Phone concepts produced by the U.K. design agency Morrama. The work, which took a team of 10 roughly 18 months, was an exploration of ways to unplug without giving smartphones a complete lobotomy. And the ideas are great: They leverage simple physical gestures to give users control over the way their smartphones work.

[Image: Morrama]
The first concept is dubbed “a helping hand.” In this concept, your phone works just like your phone always does. You hold it to see your screen. But when you flip that screen upside down, it switches you into a well-being mode. Your cortisol-inducing business apps, like Slack, disappear. And you’re left with the utilities you need like weather information.

The second concept is called “a quick escape,” and it’s a way to manage your notifications. You’ve no doubt noticed that even when you put your phone down, the notifications keep pouring in. News alerts. Texts. Facebook likes. But “a quick escape” reimagines the flat smartphone with a curved bottom. And if you place your phone down, you will only see notifications if you push on its bottom, rocking the display your way.

[Image: Morrama]
The third concept is a bit weaker than the other two, but still intriguing. Called “present in the moment,” it suggests a small, second screen on the back of your phone. The idea is that when you turn your phone upside down on a table, as many of us do at meals, the secondary display would show the most important notifications only. On one hand, I get it. What if your family has an emergency and you need to see it? On the other hand, this feels like just the sort of loophole every single app would try to exploit to get your attention.

[Image: Morrama]

It’s worth noting that variants of some of these ideas already exist. Notably, Apple and Google both launched digital well-being initiatives in their respective mobile operating systems within the last year, which track your app usage habits and allow you to ration your time online. Google’s Pixel phone features an option to flip your phone facedown onto the table to mute notifications. Samsung Galaxy phones feature an “ultra battery saver mode” that can make business apps like Slack or spying social media apps disappear from your home screen at will.

But the real appeal of Morrama’s ideas is their seamless link between physical user experience and digital user experience–which clearly has roots in Morrama’s origins as an industrial design firm rather than a digital-only agency. Rather than burying self-regulating controls deep in submenus, or trying to automate them through some sort of predictive AI, Morrama enables them to be always at the ready through simple physical gestures which, in turn, gives users more agency over their phones.  These are the sorts of design solutions that can only be created by thinking of the full experience of this rectangular prism in our hands, rather than the mere 2D on-screen UI of an app. And frankly, they’re a perfect example of why, if smartphone addiction is ever solved, it will have to be Google and Apple–companies that run the software and the hardware of their own platforms–that bring us the solution.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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