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Rotary dials give smartphone retro flair

New Zealand designer Richard Clarkson has crafted a beautiful concept smartphone with interchangeable brass rotary dials.

Richard Clarkson's concept retro rotary smartphone
The smartphone has multiple rotary dials that can be swapped like camera lenses. Richard Clarkson

It's silly, inevitable, and inspired. Of course, in this retro-crazed world, somebody was bound to slap a real rotary dial on a smartphone. And you know what? It looks cool.

New Zealand designer Richard Clarkson has come up with a concept smartphone that features a digital touch screen on the front and a space on the back where heavy brass dials, a traditional rotary dial and a dial with buttons can be interchanged like camera lenses. The phone is enclosed in a painted copper case designed to show metal where paint wears through.

Clarkson explains his motivation for the phone, dubbed Rotary Mechanical:

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 touch screen or do we want something with more tangibility, something with more life, something with more aura?

Clarkson's concept phone is a fine example of steampunk craft, never mind that rotary dial telephones came on the scene in the chrome-and-glass art deco '20s, several decades after the leather-and-brass Victorian era. I guess to do a truly period-appropriate steampunk smartphone you'd have to slap a crank handle on the side --not so appealing, or pocketable.

Brass dials on the back can be interchanged with alternately hued dials to give the phone a new look. Richard Clarkson

It's also ironic that a rotary dial, a prime example of automation in its day, serves as the mechanical, handcrafted contrast to the digital, mass-produced smartphone components of today.

The leather carrying case and swappable dials hark back to early 35mm cameras, and the combination of painted case and rotary dial gives the impression of an early transistor radio (the iPod of our grandparents' generation.)

As cool as the concept is, the phone itself isn't so practical, as all that brass and copper would probably be a lot to lug around.

The Rotary Mechanical features a touch screen on the front. Richard Clarkson

(Via Dezeen)