The Chinese smartphone manufacturer Meizu has announced an unusual device — a smartphone with absolutely no ports at all. The new device, dubbed ‘Zero’, doesn’t just eliminate a headphone jack — it has no SIM card slot, no speaker grill, no charging port, or physical buttons of any sort. The phone’s cameras (12MP, 20MP) and two small pinholes are the only apertures on the device. Of the pinholes, one is used for an emergency hard reset, while the other is for the built-in microphone.
Since junking all of the ports off a device raises some obvious questions, let’s start there. Charging is reportedly provided by a wireless solution good for up to 18W, while data transfers will be handled by wireless USB. The 5.99-inch OLED screen will reportedly act as both speaker and earpiece replacement, while the fingerprint reader is integrated entirely in-display. The built-in hardware isn’t weak, either — the device will rely on a Snapdragon 845 SoC from Qualcomm, with built-in Bluetooth 5.0 support. The wireless USB transfer capability is said to match the USB 3.0 standard (5Gbps) using 60GHz Wi-Fi according to Engadget Chinese. With no SIM slot, the device will rely on eSIM technology. Pressure sensors on the side of the device will be used to replace audio controls and the Zero will use what Meizu calls the mEngine linear motor to provide feedback.
Now, let me say up-front that we have no idea whether this phone will work well. Gimmicks are not a substitute for strong product design — just check sales of the Amazon Fire Phone or the RED Hydrogen One if you need verification. It’s entirely possible that this is a terrible idea and Meizu will never actually make it work.
But here’s the funny thing: It’s also courageous, in a way Apple’s lame “Let’s dump the headphone jack” never was. Committing to removing a useful feature from a device to promote your own new expensive wireless earbuds was never going to be particularly well-received. What Meizu is doing (for better or worse) is going to require a fundamental rethink of certain device characteristics. Using haptic feedback from the display and adapting a gesture-centric UI might be the cutting edge of phone development, but it’s also an uncertain proposition. Getting rid of all the buttons on the device and betting you can actually build a decent product without them actually takes guts.
Now, whether that actually produces a superior product is a question worth asking. But this is could be the sort of radical rethink that Apple used to occasionally demonstrate — with the original iPhone, at the very least, if nowhere else.
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