Nov 10, 2014

    Bigger smartphones, pocket-size problem

    AT A recent etiquette class, a man, I was told, raised his hand to ask: "Where should I keep my iPhone, given that they're getting so big these days?"

    "In your back pocket," was the manners maven's answer, because - as her hands gesticulated circles around his pelvic region - "there is so much going on down there already". Erk.

    It's a real, albeit admittedly first-world, problem: Pocket sizes aren't keeping up with smartphones.

    It's also arguably more of a men's issue, because women's pockets - by design - tend to be rather useless. Christian Dior is rumoured to have once said: "Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration."

    And so women carry purses - some of which come with built-in phone compartments.

    But for men, the ever-growing smartphone is proving too big for some breeches.

    Take the recent launch of the iPhone 6 Plus. When Apple unveiled its largest iPhone to date, one of the foremost questions on people's minds was: Will it fit in my pocket?

    Tech websites were quick to offer help. Some created "print and cut out" size tests, while others took videos of reporters trying to slip iPhone models in and out of their trousers.

    Meanwhile, clothing labels saw the pocket problem as a design opportunity. Some major brands - including Uniqlo and Levi's - have hinted that they are looking to make their apparel more compatible with larger phones.

    But the kookiest response thus far was from two telcos. China Unicom and KPN in the Netherlands have hired tailors, stationed outside Apple stores, to enlarge the pants pockets of customers who buy the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

    Even if the gadget could fit into your pants, it's unlikely that you'd want to risk your shiny new device getting bent (as some poor sods have experienced).

    As smartphones are not going to get any smaller, the prevailing assumption is that pockets must get bigger.

    But pockets don't necessarily need to swell. Instead, pockets - as well as fashion norms - need to be reimagined.

    Can we accept cargo pants or overalls as appropriate office wear? Mid-thigh side pockets or front-facing chest ones could do the trick - if we rewrite some of fashion's dos and don'ts.

    A Kickstarter campaign has already made some headway in this regard. A crowdfunded company, I/O Denim, has raised over US$12,000 (S$15,470) to make premium jeans that feature a dedicated - and hardly noticeable - smartphone pocket. It's located on the side of one's left thigh - between the knee and hip - and follows the outer side seam.

    Dubbed by grateful buyers as iPants, it's clear that the denims, which retail for US$115 per pair, have struck a chord with buyers. If it can be done with casual garb, I don't see why such smartypants can't be reworked for office wear, or for a suit.

    It wouldn't be the first time that pockets have been adapted to meet a new need. Think of coin pockets - the one that sits inside the right front pocket, also known as the fifth pocket.

    Perhaps another kind of restructuring is in order, this time of pants.

    After all, no one wants to be greeted with: "Is that a phone in your front pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"