Smartphone coatings protect, decorate, and drive trends and consumer choices

Smartphone coatings trends drive innovation and the market

The world of consumer electronics is dynamic and ever-changing. With device lifecycles growing shorter, new technologies changing the game every ten minutes, and design trends quickly approaching fashion-world seasonal flux, standing still will quickly have you left behind. All of this is particularly true of smartphones where a model from just two years ago can already look dated. In such a fast-paced market, smartphone coatings need to be high performance, ahead of their field, and at the forefront of design trends.

Coating companies are fighting it out for supremacy of the smartphone market, each one trying to produce the most scratchproof screen coating, the smartphone coating with the most appealing feel, the decorative coating that best captures everything we want from a phone. In this article, we explore the trends in smartphone coating, and peek into its future.


Life after rose gold: Smartphone coating colour and design trends 2019

After years of constant innovation, of a ‘next big thing’ announcement seemingly every couple of months, 2018 was a bit of a lull in the world of smartphones. The rate of technical advancement may have slowed, but not so for smartphone coating colour trends. The days of choosing between standard black or white, or hoping the special limited edition colour is still available are behind us. If the obsession with rose gold proved anything, it showed that consumers want devices with a wider range of options and colours that speak to them. And 2019 is going to continue to deliver that.

The smartphone colour trends to watch out for

Smartphones are so much more than devices for work and communication. They hold photos of family and loved ones, connect you to friends near and far, and are with you all the time. Naturally, people want their smartphone to be unique, and companies are now catching on. Even a simple change to a colour scheme, like the addition of lilac purple for the Samsung Galaxy S9, will cause excitement. AkzoNobel, international coatings company producing device coatings for brands like Samsung, is responding to the broadening colour palette by expanding their range to include a wider range of tastes.

When Huawei launched the P20 last year, one of the big attractions was the bold new aesthetic. They introduced two new dual-tone gradient colours, Twilight and Pink Gold, whose colour-bending gradients are achieved by applying Non-Conductive Vacuum Metallising (NCVM) coatings beneath the glass back of the phone. When light hits the surface, the refraction and play of light creates the vivid change of hue. Gradient colour and multi colour design are now among the hottest trends in smartphones, and this year Huawei released its newest flagship product, the P30 Series, with a new 9-layer multi colour finish in a range of palettes.

Colour is not everything – why the material matters

When you look at colour, it is not all about shades and hues. The brushed metal look of the iPhone or the glass-backed Galaxy is all part of the look, so material is also an important consideration. ‘Real’ materials like metal and glass, authentic materials, still appeal to consumers far more than plastics ever will. Plastic is generally reported to ‘feel’ cheap, and though you may not be able to change that, it is possible to change the appearance of plastic to make it seem metallic, or glass-like.

As OEMs move away from metal bodies or wish to replicate them, coatings manufacturers are developing coating technology to simulate these materials. Anodised metal simulation coating, glass simulation coating, and ceramic simulation coating are some of the latest products to help OEMs give consumers what they want.

Why having a soft touch just feels right

How a product feels – smooth, rough, rubbery, metallic, plasticky – has a huge effect on how consumers perceive the product. The right tactile experience can make a product appear high quality, desirable, and build a “feel” brand for the product. Consumers will come to associate a certain feel with their favourite product, and what consumers want is the smooth, silky feel of haptic coatings.

Haptic coatings are those that provide a tactile sensation. They are generally soft and lightly textured, ranging from silky smooth to velvet to rubbery. In consumer electronics, where so many substrates are unappealing plastics or metals, soft coatings are what makes the difference between cheap and appealing. As well as feeling good, these coatings need to be durable, scratch and stain proof, and available in a range of colour and gloss levels.

Manufacturers of smartphone coatings such as AkzoNobel are dedicated to finding soft touch coatings that are tough, resist staining, and look just as good on whites and silvers as they do on darker colours. Earlier versions of the coating had problems with staining, but new UV curable coatings make for tougher coatings that work for a variety of bright colours and glossy or matte finishes.

The screen coating Thunderdome – only the toughest solutions survive

Unsurprisingly one of the most coveted smartphone coating segments is screen coatings or display surface coatings. Gorilla Glass from Corning Inc. is the industry standard for shatterproof screens, generating over two billion pounds in sales annually. It is probably used for the screen of your own smartphone. Glass is now used for more and more surface area, especially for flagship products, so glass coatings need to provide outstanding performance across a range of fields:

  1. Smudge and fingerprint resistance – Oleophobic coatings make a surface ‘slippery’ – the slick new-phone feel is down to the new coating. But with glass backs, a slippery feel can lead to expensive accidents. Coatings need to both protect against smudges and provide a feel that is both appealing and not too smooth.
  2. Scratchproof and shatter resistance – Coating manufacturers are constantly working on glass coating to enhance the strength of the glass beneath.
  3. Glare and reflection reduction – Glare and reflection both interfere with a clear and readable screen image. Superior optical clarity is high on the priority list for consumers and OEMs alike.
  4. High quality appearance and design – Glass is being used increasingly for more than just the screen because consumers felt that it gives the phone a more high quality and premium appearance.

One of top trends at the moment is 2.5D and 3D glass, the curved glass favoured by high end OEMs. A glass back makes wireless charging faster and, according to consumers, gives the phone a more high quality and premium appearance. With more glass surfaces, the need to coatings that protect from scratches and smudges is even greater, as well as one that doesn’t create too slippery a surface and looks good.

Foldable and bezel-free is the device coating future

After years of rumours and teases, 2019 is the year we finally get foldable phones. OEMs are faced with a whole new set of challenges, finding coatings that resist creasing, stretching, and provide adhesion and scratch resistance under stress. As well as becoming foldable, phones are losing their bezels as OEMs race for the all screen smartphone. We’re not bezel free yet, but there are rumours that certain well-known brands are developing a pure black coating to disguise the notch that reveals the front camera, making the lens and notch blend into one.

The galloping pace of the world of consumer electronics makes it hard to guess at what the future holds. What seemed outlandish one year is old news the next. But whatever the tech ends up doing, smartphone coatings will continue to focus on providing consumers with the hottest new colour, feel, and design with the fastest process speeds.

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