Signs smartphones are on path to extinction: A mutation is needed

December 3, 2018 11:05 am

20 years ago, you’d never have expected to be carrying a smartphone on you at all times. In another 20 years, could we see phones go extinct? Possibly, but a mutation – an evolution – is needed.

Today, new research is showing that smartphone sales have been on a slow decline, with an annual loss of 5% in global shipments. Has the smartphone reached its peak lifespan?

Sales are dipping

According to latest estimates from market research firm IDC, global smartphone shipments amounted to 355.2 million units in the third quarter of 2018, marking the fourth straight quarter of negative growth for the smartphone market, Statista reported. For the first nine months of 2018, global shipments added up to 1.03 billion units, down 3.6% from the same period last year.

(Graph by Statista)

Data by Counterpoint Research echoed these findings, finding that Q3 2018 saw 5% fewer phones shipped compared to Q3 2017.

In fact, the once-revolutionary iPhone has been underperforming. Apple’s device, which standardized touch displays in the late 2000s, has been unseated from its position as the 2nd most sold smartphone brand in the world, by none other than Huawei. In fact, Apple’s market share has been plummeting, dropping 18% since the start of November, according to Statista.

The rest of the market isn’t in as bad a position, with companies like the aforementioned Huawei seeing its global market share skyrocket to 13.3%, up 3.5% from the same period last year. Samsung has maintained its number 1 spot. What both of these brands realize is that to sustain increased sales, it is crucial that you release smartphones across the price spectrum.

So what’s behind this market slowdown?

In the early days of smartphones, innovation was a constant factor in new releases. Phones went from black and white to color, then they started incorporating cameras, and soon they gained touch displays.

While manufacturers today are boasting about new and improved features with every yearly release, the reality of the matter is quite different. The pace of smartphone of innovation has significantly slowed down. Every new iteration adds a few Megapixels to its camera, some more pixels to its display, and subtracts a few millimeters here or there. The new rage today is the number of cameras incorporated into a phone, with Huawei bragging about installing 4 cameras in its Mate 20 Lite device.

These so-called innovations have become somewhat trite and trivial, and the numbers are reflecting that.

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What can manufacturers do to reinvigorate the market?  

As mentioned earlier, the increased number of cameras has become the latest rage in the market. All the big manufacturers are marketing this feature with the usual pomp and circumstance.

Some, however, are going a different route, and striving for true innovation. Samsung, for example, just recently announced devices with foldable screen displays that could seriously revolutionize the smartphone market once more. There is a possibility that this technology could turn out to be nothing more than a short-lived gimmick. We’ll have to wait this one out to see how it’ll play out.

Image: Let’s Go Digital

Given the drop in tablet sales globally as revealed by IDC due to a similar lack of innovation, coupled with the increase in phablet popularity in the market, these foldable phones could find a veritable market. Users clearly enjoy larger display phones, and this technology could grant them the best of both worlds.

5G is another feature manufacturers are hyping up in anticipation of its imminent availability. According to Adweek, 5G has the potential to be 20 times faster than 4G, with a peak speed of 20 Gb/s, while 4G’s peak speed is 1 Gb/s.

The smartphone is clearly progressing, even if it is a much slower pace than in previous years. There is one technology that could completely reshape the market in a few years, even if it hasn’t had that great of a success just yet.

READ: Why has everybody forgotten about tablets?

Enter: Smart glasses

Image: Google

Given the rising popularity of smartwatches, which for the most part act as a complementary device to your smartphone, another technology could soon burst into the mainstream: smart optical peripherals, or smart glasses.

The most common iteration of this device is the Google Glass, which was Google’s attempt to create a market for this technology. According to The Star, it didn’t find much success with mainstream consumers, it was somewhat well received by businesses. The $1,500 price tag at the time didn’t help.

Now, the US company has announced an upgrade: Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2. It focuses on providing workers a hands-free user experience, with focus on the manufacturing, logistics and healthcare industries.

Should Google crack the code and discover a way to market the Glass to mainstream consumers, we could realistically see a boost in smartphone sales.

Will smart glasses replace smartphones? It’s possible, but very highly unlikely. Many people still have a problem with wearing 3D glasses in cinema theatres or at home. Marketing smart glasses for everyday use could be asking too much, unless it comes with never-before-seen, revolutionary features like what we’d see in a sci-fi film. Maybe then, perhaps.

Regardless, however, the smartphone market will recover in the next few years, at least according to IDC. Attributing the current slowdown at least partly to challenging conditions in the world’s largest smartphone market, China, IDC expects the global market to return to modest growth in 2019 before the introduction of 5G devices will drive further growth until 2022, Statista reported.

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Mark Anthony Karam
By Mark Anthony Karam
Mark Anthony Karam has 3 years of experience in the field of visual and written media, having earned his Masters degree from the UK. You can get in touch with him here: [email protected]