On the same day that Apple announced its first annual revenue decline since 2001, a competitor may have released a phone with industrial design that bests the iPhone.
Smartphones are , but Xiaomi’s Mi MIX—supposedly designed in conjunction with Philippe Starck—may be the first physical specimen that’s more impressively put together than anything made by Apple. The phone features rounded glass like the iPhones of today, but the screen has no bezel, with the glass reaching edge-to-edge. The cameras don’t stick out of the back of the phone. Xiaomi and Starck have moved the receiver and proximity sensor, which take up the top edge of the regular iPhone, to new locations behind the screen. Proximity is tracked by ultrasonics, and the receiver is built into a piezoelectric driver—which if I’m understanding correctly, sends electrical impulses through the phone to vibrate .
But maybe most impressively, the entire phone is made of ceramic—a material that, just like glass, is prone to shatter, but has numerous potential advantages over the iPhone’s aluminum frame, like improved heat dissipation and scratch resistance. In fact, speculation points to Apple’s interest in incorporating ceramic into future iPhones, as it currently does special editions of the Apple Watch. (Though some argue ceramic is a logistical nightmare off the assembly line that even Apple can’t handle just yet.)
Either way, Xiaomi may be the first company to have earnestly beat Apple at its own premium hardware game, mixing cutting-edge materials, emerging sensor and component technology, and new production methods to build something more technically impressive than the iPhone itself.
That said, design nerds might suggest something else—that Apple has become a touch bored with mere materials and form, instead prioritizing the internal functionality of the iPhone with the development of Force Touch and the Taptic Engine, creating a pressure sensitive screen and virtual home button that Xiaomi’s phone lacks. In the long-term, those less superficial hardware updates are undoubtedly the better play for UX.
What will the market think if the iPhone stops being the best-looking phone—even by the slightest of margins? Eh, as long as some competitors' phones keep spontaneously catching fire, Apple can can only be so worried.