Why Smartphones Are About to Get Tacky as Hell

If you haven't seen Samsung's new teaser for its Galaxy S5 "Crystal Collection," shield your eyes now—this thing has enough reflective power to blind the sun. And judging by the shape of the smartphone market, phones dripping with crystals will soon be the status quo.

Get ready for an army of handsets that shine so bright it's damn-near vulgar. You may not like it. But it's happening one way or another. Here's why.

All smartphones today look virtually the same...

We have reached peak smartphone saturation. Everywhere you look, people are holding equally capable, equally functional, equally expensive, thin, buttonless screens of black—and maybe, sometimes not-black. Sure, the brand names etched on the back might vary, along with whatever lines of code are coursing through the phones' DNA. But the fact remains that, despite our cries to the contrary, each high-end phone is more or less interchangeable with the next.

Phones can only get so thin before they start bending the laws of physics, which is why phone makers have recently resorted to increasing screen real estate. But even phablets can only get so big before ceasing to be phones altogether.

Minimalist design may be stunning in its simplicity, but in an increasingly competitive market, simple just can't sustain.

Your choice of handset is largely a matter of preference. They will all let you check your mail, browse the web, and upload photos to a veritable cornucopia of filter-based camera apps—and at lightning speed to boot. The differences are negligible if not mostly imagined. Face it, you could get by if forced to use any flagship phone.

...forcing phone makers to find a way to stand out...

The shift has already been long underway. Nokia started down this road years ago with its candy colored Windows Phones, and though it took a while before others followed, even Apple caved to a flavor of bling it could stomach: goldpagne. Not one to let Apple stay the literal golden child for long, HTC quickly followed with its similarly gilded HTC One.

Why Smartphones Are About to Get Tacky as Hell

While a gold phone might not be your particular cup of tea, couldn't this just be a symptom of the fact that people like options? The popularity of custom wood iPhone backs is a testament to that, surely. And it is, but this is also about so much more than phone makers giving the people what they want. This is about making sure other people can see your phone in the first place, and recognize what it is. Otherwise, you're just another black rectangle in a sea of thousands.

Why Smartphones Are About to Get Tacky as Hell

The Moto X attacked with an army of colors and veneers while the Galaxy S5 offered a fairly divisive set of brightly colored dimples. Certainly more eye-catching than a simple, gilded finish—but with far more potential to offend. And we're just getting started.

...which means a vicious cycle of increasingly over-the-top, garish devices.

Samsung's Galaxy S5 Swarovski iteration is certainly the biggest departure from our otherwise greyscale sea of screens. It's loud. It's gaudy. And whether you like it or not, you are going to remember that shining atrocity of a phone.

Any time someone's tapping away at their bedazzled S5 on the street, you're going to know it immediately as specifically Samsung. See someone pulling out a wood-backed, curving piece of plastic? That's a Moto X right there. And the technicolor cheese grater at your ear? An iPhone 5C in the flesh. It's wildly beneficial for manufacturers to make their devices stand out, so long as it's not driving away sales. And there's already plenty of evidence to suggest that people want this, that expressing a fashion choice is worth becoming a walking, talking smartphone advertisement. Though that's not a concept that's entirely new to anyone who has seen an Ed Hardy t-shirt. Sure, no sane phone-maker is going to rob you of a more modest option, but they are going to up the ante on insanity. And you get caught in the crossfire.

When it comes down to it, these really are all great devices. People are going to buy them. And if it takes a bucket of glitter, feathers, and fur to steal even just a few more eyes away from the competition, then so be it. That is, until a company bucks the trend and—in order to make its phones stand out—eschews decoration entirely. But that's not even really feasible until things get as bad as they possible can. So until then, pass the hot glue gun.