When you really think about it, it seems as if we haven’t seen truly meaningful mobile phone improvements in quite some time. Nevertheless, the devices just keep getting more expensive, to the point that we’ve taken to exploring strategies to overcome the prices. But what are you really being asked to pay for when a new smartphone becomes available? A slightly better camera? Marginally improved battery life? Or perhaps a screen that’s a hair wider than it was on a previous model?
Over time, these little changes add up, and do become meaningful. For instance, while a 2020 phone’s camera may not be noticeably better than the 2019 model to anyone but an expert photographer, it’s typically significantly better than, say, a 2016 model’s would be. The broader point, however, is that the types of changes we see don’t tend to justify massive purchases. And that, of course, begs the question of what would justify them. In other words, how can smartphones actually improve in ways people would really want to pay for?
In all likelihood, industry insiders could provide a number of interesting answers to that question. But there are a few that are quite apparent without any insider knowledge….
5G is beginning to emerge already, and has already been touted as a development that will boost mobile opportunities in Kenya (and in many other parts of the world as well). Simply put, better connectivity without the need for WiFi will alter expectations for what smartphones are capable of, as well as how quickly and reliably they can perform basic, everyday functions. The interesting thing, once 5G is more widespread, will be to see which phones are compatible with it. If there are clear divides, such that only newer models are able to adequately support 5G, there would be a strong incentive to invest in those models. That said, it is not going to be the case that only the very newest phones will work with 5G; there will be models that were available before 5G’s introduction that can still tap into the network.
This idea doesn’t make headlines, but the internal mechanisms that supply smartphones with electronic capabilities are becoming more advanced as well. It starts with printed circuit boards (PCBs), which can now be designed with varying thickness so much so that more electrical connections can sometimes be packed into a denser space — without surrendering any functionality. These stronger PCBs can in turn enable more high-performance chips, ultimately helping smartphones to become significantly more impressive in multiple ways. This is a space in which we do see small updates from time to time. But it’s possible at some point that innovative PCB and chip design will lead to a more significant leap forward, resulting in a phone with noticeably advanced speed, responsiveness, and general performance.
Finally, there are also foldable smartphones to consider! Thanks to innovative screen technologies, major providers are now coming out with full-fledged smartphones that can actually fold in half, almost like the flip phones of old. In early models there were some issues with durability and performance, and some viewed the foldable concept as something of a gimmick. With big names in on the idea, however (like Samsung and quite possibly Apple), the phones are getting more durable, and looking more like they could represent the first significant design change smartphones have seen in years. Whether or not it’s a good change is for each consumer to decide, but there’s no denying that foldable features make for more exciting developments than most of the things we’re used to seeing.
Even if and when exciting changes like these come along, it will always make sense to hunt for good deals or look for ways to buy smartphones at reduced prices. But these, at least, would make the price seem justifiable for the first time in a while.