Smartphones – The future remains steady

Published: Mon 5 Feb 2024, 9:25 PM

The biggest challenge for the planet will be e-waste and sustainability issues. Just tinkering with the packing material and plastics used will help, but in a very small way

By Niranjan Gidwani

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What is the device we spend the most time with? At times even more than with our loved ones…….

There is hardly anyone in the world who would not have the answer.

It’s the smartphone. This device has become one of the key segments of the consumer electronics business, contributing in a major way to the entire value chain, and has become so central to our lives that it is almost like an extension of our body.

Smartphones are amazing devices. Which is why the world is so addicted to them and why, in so many places around the globe, most people have one.

Will this craze carry on forever?

Almost everyone believes that the smartphone is something we will continue to carry with us, both literally and metaphorically. The smartphone market may never see the same meteoric rise that it did some years ago, but the all-powerful pocket computer is surely here to stay.

At this point it's hard to function in society without one, and that is not going to change any time soon. A small percentage of the world will get the newest high-end model, many will opt for the mid-to-high range products, and others will use the basic product until it falls apart.

So, what does one see in the foreseeable future?

One thing is certain. The form factor and specifications will really evolve. Right now, the world is comfortable with the candy bar design, and that will stick around for quite some time, but a significant portion of the market will become foldable. Foldable phones can change the way content is consumed. These devices can change to a different size to perform a specific task. When unfolded, they can go from being a small smartphone to a tablet type of device. Smartphones and tablets, therefore, could merge.

And as the smartphone market shifts, people are surely going to be looking to get more utility out of that one device.

One feature that has the potential to become more common in smartphones, in the near future, is improved artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. Smartphones are already able to perform a wide range of tasks. However, there is still room for improvement and further development in this area.

Battery technology is another feature that is also ripe for innovation. Smartphones keep getting major upgrades to cameras and sensors, but interestingly, batteries have not changed much in years. Alternatives to lithium-ion batteries will allow for faster charging and longer battery life. Some technologies even allow batteries not to lose capacity over time.

Imagine that a phone runs out of battery and there is no charger immediately available. That may not be a problem in a few years’ time, as it is expected that the next smart devices can be charged wirelessly over the air. There are also devices being planned whose battery could be charged by solar power. This will be a much-needed boost as the global order is shifting to more and faster data consumption and longer hours of usage on the device. However, it will be interesting to see whether brands would improve battery technology soon or prefer the current strategy of selling newer models each year.

The future holds exciting promise. And yet, since 2017, for six years in a row, demand for new phones has been on the decline. China and North America have been the biggest drivers of negative growth, and more so this year. Global inflation and an uncertain environment are making consumers reluctant to make faster upgrades to their devices. Re-furbished and used phones market is creating another big dent in the new phones market.

Premium and ultra-premium growth is still strong among the top two global brands. The important thing to consider is that there are opportunities in markets that are still under-served. Africa is one continent where many of the phones in use are still feature phones, not full-fledged smartphones. There is also immense potential in India’s 5G expansion over the coming years.

Many of us can’t imagine life before smartphones, and the tech industry has shown an eager interest in keeping customers coming back on a regular basis to purchase the latest and greatest models. Every year brings a slew of new products and brands are constantly raising the bar on what their flagship smartphones can do. In the process, the e-waste problem also keeps getting bigger and more complex.

About 10 years ago, no-one could imagine how much smartphones would evolve in a decade. However, smartphone technology has accelerated so much that the first smartphones now seem like primitive dinosaurs.

Modern smartphones are now the platform of choice when it comes to accessing information. Years ago, we used countless devices to check the weather, take photos, read emails, or listen to music. However, today we find everything on our smartphone.

Mobile phones have become an extension of ourselves and have changed our lives forever. About 80 per cent of the world’s population has a cell phone. We look at our phones an average of over 100 times a day, and some people become extremely anxious if they forget to bring their phone with them.

Although the pace of development seems to have slowed recently, smartphones will continue to evolve. My personal view is that AR and VR will surely create a buzz and pockets of interest but may never come close to the popularity of a smartphone.

The biggest challenge for the planet will be e-waste and sustainability issues. Just tinkering with the packing material and plastics used will help, but in a very small way. And interestingly, very few of the big, organised global players are working on a strategy to tap into the used phones segment which will be almost 25 per cent of value sales by 2026.

Smartphones are not disappearing soon.

Consultant director | board member Society of Sustainability & Green Materials | Member UAE Superbrands Council | HBR Advisory Council | Charter Member TIE Dubai


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