The smartphone reinvents itself at a time where the market is getting mature
Seven years after the iPhone was launched, the market has reached maturity and professionals are stressing out that major technological innovations are becoming rare. Better camera sensor, larger screen, sophisticated design, higher level of manufacturing, processor improvements… It’s getting difficult to impress MWC visitors who are becoming less enthusiastic and more demanding. Whereas Samsung Galaxy S6 was highly expected, the observer’s attention mainly focused on its design in the end. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that MWC remains a professional exhibition, that’s why its goal can sometimes be remote from real consumers expectations.
What possible future can be imagined for the smartphone, that device that has completely transformed peoples’ lives over the past few years? Some manufacturers try to imagine new original functionalities to differentiate themselves in an ultra-competitive market. For instance, Alcatel new Idol 3 is equipped with a reversible screen while ZTE experiments eye-scanning authentication.
Another way of innovating can be the exploration of a niche market. The Google Ara Project has bet on the ultra-personalisation, allowing users to make their own smartphone out of different modules. Meanwhile, the BlackPhone 2 seems to answer crucial security issues that are facing companies or governments.
It looks essential today for the smartphone industry to adapt itself to new upcoming challenges. Tomorrow, smartphones will be increasingly used as payment devices. At MWC, Samsung revealed its Samsung Pay system, a new contactless payment solution that aims to compete with Apple Pay. As users keep developing new ways of using their phones, it will be essential to address the battery autonomy issue. Kyocera has already brought an answer with a photovoltaic screen film.
Considering only the object, the smartphone is more upgrading with sustaining innovations rather than disruptive ones. However major innovations are affecting its uses within a new global digital ecosystem made of connected objects. Even if the smartphone is not the MWC’s superstar anymore, it remains the heart of this ecosystem: “one smartphone to rule them all”, connected objects will be the extension of a multitask smartphone that will have plenty of new uses. Even Telecom operators have started to show interest by working on the future 5G that will allow the connection of the 50 billion connected objects on the market by 2020.
Connected objects in abundance
GFK predicts that 26 millions of smart watches will be sold in 2015. Considering the high profit value, the market is already crowded; manufacturers have few options to differentiate from each other’s so they primarily focus on the appearance at MWC. Few innovating features, but interesting things in design, the smart watch is rather becoming a piece of jewellery inspired by traditional watchmaking than a gadget. As an example, Huawei released a stylish high-end smart watch with a very classic design: round-faced watch, hands, leather strap and sapphire glass.
Aside from the smart watches, connected objects are getting more and more obsessionals. Manufacturers, always on the lookout of new opportunities, imagine new uses, think about which object they could potentially connect with. Everything can be connected! Possibilities appear endless! At MWC, suitcase and even caps could be connected. The announced success of the Internet of Things makes everyone dream including the ones that are not into it, like Ford who imagined the bike of tomorrow, obviously connected.
However, a doubt remains for the public regarding the real utility of these new objects. Despite the interest of techies, a strategic issue is to overcome its gadget status in order to be adopted by users. Some of them seem sceptical, probably because no smart watch succeeded in creating buzz – expect for the Apple Watch – and most are considerate as low-end products. According to a march 2015 Kantar survey, only 1,2% of French people have a smart watch and 64% of them do not considerer buying one in the next 12 months stressing out the useless functionalities and its high price. Nevertheless, 2,3 millions Apple Watch were pre-ordered in the days following the 24th of April, a good news for Apple who is likely to redefine the whole category of the product as they already did in the past with smartphones.