During Mobile World Congress, I took a break from the coalface of news that is Mobile World Daily, to film for the hotbed of glamorous broadcast journalism that is Mobile World Live TV.

As we walked past the Samsung stand, where the company was promoting its newly announced Galaxy Note 10.1, a colleague observed that “the stylus is back.” Since the launch of the iPhone, this previously ubiquitous tool for touch-screen devices has been largely notable for its absence, except for some devices targeting Asian markets.

When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note last year, the device seemed something of an oddball. With its 5.3 inch display and stylus, it seemed an unclear fit in a world filled by iPhone-alikes. But Samsung is now reported to have shifted 2 million of them, with the target of 10 million cumulative sales by the end of 2012, making the device something of a “hit” – if not a breakout success like the Galaxy S.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 is accompanied by an update to the standard 10.1-inch screen Galaxy Tab device, without the stylus input, which forms a more natural rival to the market dominating iPad. But with tablet computers being used in markets such as education, the availability of an alternative offering the ability to handwrite notes and draw sketches is invaluable.

Of course, the issue is not as simple as “stylus or no.” It is more a case that in the competitive tablet market, vendors are seeking niches to fill in order to generate market traction which was not achieved with the first tranche of iPad-alikes.

Which brings us to the smartphone market. A description of almost every device announced at Congress would be “flat, rectangular, touch screen, bit like an iPhone from a distance.” While the specifications of devices continue onwards and upwards – particularly with regards to processors, displays and connectivity – the basic designs remain similar.

It is not that long ago, when Symbian was still the dominant platform and Windows Mobile still featured on product roadmaps, that smartphones invariably included a keypad of some description – either numeric or QWERTY. A quick survey of the big operator portfolios shows that someone seeking a similar device now – outside of RIM’s BlackBerry line – will be hard pushed.

Of course, I am not advocating a return to the days of non touch-screen devices with complex navigation and opaque menu structures. Technology has moved on and – thankfully – the user experience has improved across the board.

But there must still be an opportunity for a bold device maker to break away from the current form factor, to try something a little different. Like the Galaxy Note smartphone, people may initially be a little sceptical, but then 2 million buyers can’t all be wrong.

Steve Costello

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members