Smartphones are here to stay, and eventually, they are going to replace feature phones, although the latter are here to stay, especially for emerging markets. Over the years, nearly two decades to be precise that smartphones have served us (you know, as early as 2000 when Research In Motion (RIM) was a thing with its thick Blackberry devices that have since been served by the last nail on their coffin, to the launch of the iPhone in the mid-2000s and finally, the start and sharp growth of Android), a variety of trends have graced the space based on market demands.
The smartphone business has also been lucrative for select players, but keeping customers interested has not been easy because, let’s face it, innovation has stalled, and manufacturers are overhyping trivial things because they have to stay in business while making a hole in your pocket.
Well, innovation is slowing down
These assertions have been echoed by Growth from Knowledge (GfK) that has detailed smartphone trends in 2019 in terms of what people want to see in the devices in the future, how they use their handhelds, and how manufacturers have let them down in one way or another.
Obviously, it is an uphill task to impress consumers, including yours truly, with key innovations because they haven’t been any in the last couple of years. This can be attributed to a lot of things, including the fact that the market has peaked, and that the competition is stiff with tens or more players that are bringing value to customers that would have otherwise spent more money to purchase a product from a company with a popular brand name.
Furthermore, features that used to separate the big boys from growing manufacturers are not unique anymore: big screens are everywhere, big batteries are a thing now, and processing power and storage have appreciated considerably.
Quest for the newest phone model
With the said issues in mind, GfK reports that the market is still anxious about what phone makers have up their sleeves. To this end, we have seen the same OEMs release tens of devices in any given year to serve every price point. In fact, four out of five smartphones that were sold in 2019 were released in that year. This was not the case a couple of years ago when customers were forced to wait for a given device to drop its sticker price before securing it.
Contrary to popular belief, size does matter
Going back to the innovation point, it has become a norm now that more is better – although some OEMs such as Samsung are making folding phones, which are not all that special, a thing in 2020. This is the main reason features are seeing significant size bumps: screens are gigantic (the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is a 6.9” mammoth of a device), batteries are large, and media-hoarding room is no longer an issue because we can now get a 64 GB budget phone. This was unheard of two or more years ago.
The share of phones with at least 6-inches of screen real estate has now reached 70 percent (2019), which is up from 24 percent in 2018. Furthermore, while cloud storage is popular and effective, customers still love their local storage, which is something they factor in when buying a new pocket computer. To this end, 37 percent of all phones sold in 2019 had at least 128 GB of internal memory.
It turns out big batteries are actually nice
In the same breath, battery life is perhaps the most sought-after smartphone feature. 38 percent of smartphones sold in 2019 had at least 4000 mAh juicers. Locally, we can attest that huge batteries are important, and considering the market tends to prefer budget to mid-range phones, the devices are equipped large cells, and rarely will you see a phone with under a 4000 mAh battery.
A shot for every time an OEM mentions 5G
We should agree on one thing here: do not buy a 5G phone yet because they are still expensive, and even in countries where carriers have some form of a functional 5G coverage, the technology is still growing, and will likely not work according to your expectations.
This, however, does not mean that manufacturers are not going to appeal to you with 5G. For instance, the S20 series of phones from Samsung are equipped with the technology, but it has been deactivated because the tech is not here yet, but will likely go live sometime in 2020 thanks to Safaricom.
Also, in 2019, more than 10 brands were selling phones with 5G radios. However, the biggest market for the tech is China, as well as S. Korea, the US and the UK.
You want convenience, and you are going to pay for it dearly
We know what happens when a company makes things easy for you: you will foot the bill, and it is always expensive. In this case, phone users are yearning for ways that will improve their comfort and a simplification of day to day interactions. Thus, OEMs have been complementing their phones with wearable devices whose market reach grew by 28 percent in 2019 because more people want smartwatches because they are suddenly conscious about their health.
The space has also seen an increased demand for wireless earbuds because the good ol’ wired earphones, as well as their matching 3.5 mm headphone socket are old tech that need to be phased out. However, you and I know that manufacturers are retiring the socket because they want profits, and you will most likely buy the buds anyway. Players such as Samsung came late in the space with Galaxy Buds/+ because they had to ensure that consumers are accustomed to the tech and would not raise hell if the move was sudden.
Anyway, every second handset sold in 2019 was wireless, which is twice as high as their share in 2018. And hey, wireless buds are not cheap!
Lastly, the infographic below summarizes some of the points raised: