It’s been years since LG was considered a top tier player in the smartphone space, but the company continues to crank out a handful of new flagship and mid-range Android phones year after year.
Now the company is considering downsizing its smartphone business, selling it off, or killing it outright.
And while any of those options might make good sense financially, it does leave me wondering whether anyone will pick up LG’s torch and continue making weird phones.
Last year LG introduces the LG Explorer project, where the company would dabble with far-out ideas. The first product to come out of that was the LG Wing, an unusual T-shaped dual-screen smartphone. The next Explorer device is expected to be the LG Rollable, a smartphone with a flexible display partially rolled up inside the case, allowing you stretch the phone until it’s a tablet-sized device.
But even before LG launched the Explorer project, the company had some weird ideas. Remember the LG G5 with Friends? The company’s 2016 flagship had the kind of specs you’d expect from a high end smartphone at the time, but its most unusual feature was a slot that allowed you to add optional modules like a camera grip with an extended battery, a Hi-Fi speaker, and a 360-degree camera.
One can reasonably assume that the modular features weren’t hugely popular with LG customers, because LG scrapped the idea the following year with the launch of the LG G6. But the G6 was one of the first phones to feature an 18:9 aspect ratio at a time when 16:9 was still the norm. That was a time when LG was at the forefront of a trend that has since taken hold throughout the smartphone industry.
Trends that haven’t developed in recent years? Modular phones (with a few exceptions like the Moto Z series and niche devices like the PinePhone) or dual-screen phones with a T-shaped design.
I’m glad a company like LG has been throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. Unfortunately few of those ideas seem to have stuck.
And that may be at least in part because LG wasn’t innovating to fill some sort of unmet need. The smartphone space is intensely competitive these days and it’s hard to make a phone that stands out by having a better processor, camera, screen, or other basic set of features because most phone makers have access to the same components. So from time to time LG has gotten weird in the hopes that it would stumble upon a winning design.
More often than not, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.
But even if LG eventually pulls out of the smartphone business, the company’s technology will likely still play a role in future devices. After all, LG didn’t just design a new smartphone with a rollable display that’s set to launch soon. The company designed that rollable display, which could be sold to other phone makers in the future.
Meanwhile, folks who are still interested in weird phones might have to look to smaller companies like F(x)Tec, Planet Computers, Pine64, and Purism, which have developed phones with features like built-in keyboards, support for GNU/Linux distributions and other free and open source operating systems, and physical kill switches for wireless, mic, and camera functions, among other things.
But these are smaller companies that produce limited quantities of their devices and offer limited support compared to electronics giants like LG or Samsung.