Smartphone with a rotary dial

Richard Clarkson designed this rotary mechanical smartphone, which features a lot of nostalgic brass and wheels, as well as a snappy little hi-rez display.
The rotary mechanical smartphone is based on the idea of incorporating more feeling and life into our everyday digital objects. In modern times these objects have come to define us, but who and what defines these objects? Are we happy with generic rectangles of a touchscreen or do we want something with more tangibility, something with more life, something with more aura?
rotary mechanical (Thanks to everyone who suggested this!)


  1. The rotary dial is functional yes? Because there is nothing worse than doing something like this and having it be purely decorative.

    1. Agreed. Artists seem really keen on examining issues related to “…objects [having] come to define us…” but seem to have a real blind spot as to the role that form over substance plays in that process.

      Imagine that….

  2. It’s very pretty – and this coming from someone sick to death of steampunk. Well, up until the hideous flip-phone UI. Why go through all the trouble to mock this up and then ruin it with that? I’m not even opposed to concept-only designs – but this seems both weirdly impractical and gimmicky for it’s own sake. At least John’s phone – a truly minimalist phone that really exists – fully considers its usability (or lack thereof).

  3. And of course if they’d used a trimline-style moving fingerhook the dial could have been made small enoug that it wouldn’t extend beyond the side of the case.

  4. I don’t believe this is a functioning phone. Simply a well thought out design idea that probably could work. And it would probably sell very well.

  5. Much as I appreciate the anodised copper body that will patinate and get more beautiful the more scratched it is……

    A phone with a dial with no number that you can’t see the screen while using is ergonomically bonkers.

    And the dial is bigger than the phone body for no other reason than that it is. Ensuing Buttcall fun guaranteed.

    This need to be either a clamshell or a slider – which given the overall aesthetic direction could be very nice indeed (visible slider rails/hinges etc.).

    Back to the drawing board, mate.

    1. @ Ernst –
      A real rotary dial phone has to be rotated and probably won’t make a buttcall. You may be confusing a rotary dial with retro pushbutton fake-dials that were popular for awhile.
      Also, dial phones did not have displays, and it didn’t hinder use.
      But having said all that, a clamshell to hide the screen would be nice. You might end up with something like the communicators in Warehouse 13.

  6. If you are going to go through the effort of making something that harkens back to a time when things were finely crafted and built to last, one would think you would try to make it finely crafted and built to last.

    Instead we have a rough edge of the dial, a bent piece of rectangular sheet metal as the finger stop and some cheap brass round-head philips screws holding it together. This is an effort to make it look old-fashioned by making it look shabby.

  7. If this doesn’t cut it for you guys, maybe you’d like the Steampunk Rotary Dial. It’s a similar concept, but it’s all software.

    IMHO, this kind of stuff should be appreciated for the aesthetics, and for the experience of doing something “the old way”. Any criticism of it not being functionally useful is kind of missing the point.

  8. A set of cellphone guts inside a standard Trimline handset would be fine by me. No screen, just the hangup button (converted to a slide switch since there’s no base to set it on) and a dial and an earpiece and mouthpiece.

    Or a small buttset like Ma Bell gave their linemen in the forties, with a cellphone built in.

    1. The 40’s? I still see linemen carrying those (granted, I don’t live in baby Bell country).

      1. You don’t see that particular model of buttset on the butts of linemen these days. Look closely at it. The dial is a tiny metal thing with little posts for your finger to grab.

  9. Life is a wheel and so is BB…
    It’s you guys who intruced me to the fine people at Sparkfun With a head-up to this Portable Rotary Phone

    They even kept the original (high voltage!) bell with its glorious sound. Slip in you SIM card and you’re done. Dring!

  10. As soon as I saw that I thought ‘aha, Warehouse 13’, but Claudia would probably have a coronary laughing at it’s clunkyness.

  11. This looks real good.
    If the screen is touchscreen aswell, then it’s good for all purposes. I like.

  12. I guess the case is metal, but at first it looked to me like it had a thin, formed leather case, like small transistor radios in the 60’s and rangefinder cameras had. I think that’s one thing that needs to come back in a big way – it’s super elegant.

    You can get formed leather cases for certain modern cameras, like the Olympus EP-2 I have, but they’re not as good (aesthetically) as the old kind.

    1. Motorola was doing something similar with a Bluetooth headset that they came out with not too long ago–it had the perforated-aluminum aesthetic of those transistor radios (minus the leather).

      As for this thing… he says that the “design of the phone references both steampunk and minimalistic genres”, but that’s an exercise in contradictions; if he’d managed to create some kind of real tension between the two, it might have been more interesting, but as it is it just looks like he slapped a rotary dial on a clunky phone with a ten-year-old interface and then gave up. Imagine a real steampunk smartphone: little pot-type dials for letters and numbers (rotary dials were patented at the end of the nineteenth century and didn’t come into use until well after the Victorian era), brass body, analog gauge for signal strength, and a sepia-toned interface that might look like the title cards in early Mutoscope-type peep shows. It would weigh a ton and take forever to use, but it would still be very cool.

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