Lately, I had the pleasure of joining our Flutter Team Leader, Marcin Starmach to talk about an interesting topic — “The future of smartphone market”.
During our conversation we had a chance to discuss many important aspects that play a huge role in shaping the whole industry. This allowed us to eventually come up with some conclusions and predictions about the market’s future direction that I also want to share.
Why this topic?
To explain the reason why we chose such a topic, first it is worth mentioning that every developer’s job is not only about coding. In order to stay competitive it is also necessary to keep up with the newest standards and technologies. Due to the fact that we both work as mobile developers, we follow the smartphone market especially closely.
The other reason for today’s topic is our curiosity itself. The past few years were packed with some great changes happening in the smartphone market.
A bit of history
If we go back in time about 15 or 20 years, the majority of mobile phones available on the market were nowhere near similar to the ones from today. The most obvious differences were: the lack of a touch screen, the physical keyboard and a control system highly dependent on some sort of button combination or joystick. Of course, there were some exceptions, because it was possible to find a device with a touch screen, but in order to operate it you would normally have to use some sort of stylus.
However, things changed drastically in the mid 2007 with the introduction of the 1st generation iPhone. Even though it utilized a touch screen, just like some of its competitors, its approach was slightly different. The most obvious one was the fact that a user was not forced to use a stylus to operate it. Despite that and many other criticisms about its features it is safe to say that the iPhone played a huge role in shaping today’s smartphone industry. A proof of that can be the fact that in the upcoming years many companies introduced the same concepts while designing their mobile devices which eventually lead to a huge shift in the whole smartphone industry.
The next years resulted in the introduction of many more models which could rather be classified as evolutionary and not revolutionary. This, however, doesn’t mean that the market wasn’t changing at all. One of the biggest solutions that also led to a huge market shift was the introduction of application stores like Google Play Store or Apple App Store. This allowed many companies and software developers to provide the users with almost endless possibilities thanks to purchasing new software, downloading updates, chatting with friends using online communicators, and many more.
There is no doubt that a smartphone provides a wide spectrum of functionalities. It can take pictures, make phone calls, send emails, and in some cases even create 3D models using built-in sensors. However, it cannot be denied that in some aspects it can be a bit cumbersome. An example of such an area is sport & wellness. Of course, you can try to run or swim with a phone, or even try to measure some health statistics (like the quality of sleep), but as we all know there is a different kind of equipment more suitable for these kinds of tasks — smartwatches. Thanks to their ease of carrying and many additional sensors and functionalities it might be just easier to use them instead.
Smartwatches are not the only devices that are more suitable for certain tasks. If you want to watch a movie, a tablet might be a better choice than a smartphone due to its bigger screen. If you want to write a document or create a spreadsheet, a laptop or PC might be easier to work with due to the keyboard and mouse. The list here can go on and on, so it’s safe to say that no device is perfect for every job. However, it would be a bit irritating to work on all those devices while also trying to manually keep all your data in sync manually. That’s why thanks to the ecosystems prepared by many companies we avoid such problems. What is more, in many cases we can even extend the functionalities of our devices by using multiple ones simultaneously. All of this is able to work properly thanks to software prepared especially for such ecosystems (like cloud storage, health data synchronization, switching audio sources between multiple devices, etc.).
While talking about the future of smartphones it is also important to mention the business aspects of this area. Thanks to a vast amount of changes that took place throughout the years the business models had to eventually be adjusted as well. The typical way of earning money for a phone manufacturer was just to sell the device itself. Nowadays, despite the huge figures that this still generates, selling smartphones is not necessarily treated as the main source of income. This is because it is much more profitable for the companies to focus on profiting from software sales or ecosystem-related purchases as they are able to deliver continuous profits even after the device purchase (for example using subscriptions). Thanks to such an approach nowadays many companies are able to introduce many more device models at different price ranges in order to encourage customers to join the ecosystem and bring the company profits through future software purchases or subscriptions.
What will the future smartphone look like?
It is safe to say that the smartphone market has evolved drastically in the past few years. Devices available on the market are not only much smarter, but the general focus is shifting from the smartphone itself to new smart devices categories, like smartwatches, smart speakers, etc. Thanks to those trends, companies adjust their business models which become highly dependent on software and subscription revenues and not necessarily hardware sales. For the moment being, nothing really suggests that we should expect any changes to this trend. The smartphone that we all know is changing and might become merely a supplement device of the personal, software-focused ecosystem and not its main device.