It’s not hard to think back even a few years and remember the staggering pace of innovation in the world of smartphones. Year after year we were treated to a whole host of new features – cameras on phones quickly improved from just a bit of fun, to devices that allow even complete novices to take seriously good photos. We also saw the rise of apps and the app store, waterproofing, fast charging and fingerprint scanning to name but a few of the innovations we’ve seen over the last decade.
Unsurprisingly, impressive innovations such as the above have helped to drive an unbelievable amount of sales within the industry, but if you look at data over the last year or two, quite a few of the big manufacturers are reporting growth that has slowed significantly or even sales growth that has stalled altogether. In my eyes it’s not hard to see why.
Take a look Apple and Samsung for example – two of the biggest smartphone brands in the world. Apple has just released a trio of new phones – the XS, XS Max and XR, while Samsung this year has released the S9 and S9+, along with the recent Galaxy Note 9. The problem for both of these companies is that they’re struggling to give consumers a really compelling reason to upgrade.
For example, say you’ve already bought last year’s (well received) iPhone X, and assuming you’re not stuck in a two or even three year contract that you don’t fancy paying off, what reason has Apple given you to fork out £999 (and up) for this year’s latest and greatest? Well, let’s see – the processor is slightly better, the camera is slightly better, and the water resistance is slightly better. The key word here in case you haven’t noticed already is “slightly”. The thing is, all of these things were still brilliant on last year’s iPhone X – when it comes to processing power for example, all but the most demanding users are unlikely to push even last year’s model anywhere near its limits.
The same is true for Samsung, who this year reported slower than expected sales for the Galaxy S9 and I can’t say I’m surprised. Sure, the S9 is beautifully constructed device, but put it side by side with last year’s S8 and to be honest, it would take a real tech enthusiast to spot the difference. Sure it was an “S” year for Apple, and Samsung were improving on an already very good phone – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and all that – but surely you can see my point, why would consumers continue to fork out obscene amounts of cash each year for incremental upgrades?
This all leads to one big question – is smartphone innovation dead? The latest trends are driving all manufacturers to deliver devices that are thinner than ever, with bezels that are ever shrinking, but is this what consumers really want, or is it simply what the smartphone industry thinks we all want? Where for example is the promised revolution in battery life? Yes, it has been improving a little bit in the last couple of generations, but where are the giant leaps (week long battery life anyone?) that it feels like we’ve been promised are coming. Battery life continues to be one of the most complained about smartphone problems, so surely some innovations here – or even just much larger batteries – would be more welcome by most consumers rather than smaller bezels?
Samsung have also reportedly been working on folding phones for some time now – think of a smartphone that you could open into a larger tablet style screen when needed – but we’re still yet to see the fruits of their labour. Maybe innovations such as this could be the next big thing we’re all looking for, and until then we’ll have to put up with all these incremental updates that only really appease those who absolutely must have the latest and greatest.
What do you think? Is smartphone innovation dead, or are you happy with the rate of innovation in the industry? Do you still feel the need to upgrade as regularly or do you keep your phone for longer now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…