Forgotten Function: The Decline of the Metal Phone

Omar Zahran
8 min readApr 25, 2020
Black and white image of building that reads “when will you return”
Image Credit: P C via Pexels

Anyone that knows me, knows that I have a little bit of a phone buying problem. Okay, maybe it’s more than a little bit. In the nearly 20 years of owning phones I have had over 100 phones. Having used so many devices, there are always a few that stick out in my memory. When I think of phones that I had an extreme attachment to there are a couple of models that always come to mind: the HTC One M8 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus. And when I think about what I loved about those phones is that they were industrial phones that were powerful in their time and featured designs that were minimal and functional. A quality that I feel is sometimes missed in today’s smartphone landscape.

These two phones had one thing in common in a sea of other differences: they both featured an all aluminum design around the sides and the back. To me, this is the most functional design choice for a smartphone that was ever devised. It is more durable than the plastic of the past and the glass of the present. It is also a happy medium of design aesthetic between plastic and glass. Metal is more visually appealing than plastic, but didn’t allow for all of the color tricks that we see on glass phones such as Samsung’s Aura Glow color on their Note 10 series. Yet despite these advantages, the all metal phone has largely disappeared from phone manufacturers’ portfolios.The reason for this has been shown to be a mix of limitations and forced advancement.

Sign that reads “Time for change”
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The Transition from Plastic to Metal to Glass

The evolution of smartphone design has always been something that is in hyper-drive especially at the top end. In the beginning all phones were made from plastic and generally featured removable back plates to be able to easily access the battery and SIM card slots. This was the prime example of design meeting functionality and purpose. Most of these designs did not feel exactly premium or luxurious, but rather focused on the usability aesthetic. And for most people that was great, as a focus on durability was the prime focus of these early smartphones.

Omar Zahran

Freelance sports writer, check out all my work at