There, I said it. I mean, haven’t you noticed it yet? The only things that ever improve with each new iteration of a flagship or a budget phone is it’s specs and its camera setup. No drastic innovation.
Sure, there are notable exceptions like the Samsung Galaxy S8 which slightly changed what a display screen should look like, but other than that, phones don’t exactly have much variation. I’d even hazard to suggest that modular phones are actually the most innovative idea the mobile market has put forth so far. And on that note, phones that do dare to be different like say, the LG G5, often go unnoticed by the market. or outright get bashed for broken modules and subpar hardware quality. In fact, until the G6, LG struggled to crack even the top five best selling phones in the smart device market, despite almost every past iteration offering some sort of modular design to deliver innovative ideas and prolong device lifespans.
So what’s going on here? Is the smartphone consumer base just allergic to innovative ideas? Well, the answer doesn’t simply boil down to a short answer. Overall, there are a lot of things that go into consideration when I say that innovation in smartphones, ultimately, doesn’t matter.
What Matters – Convenience and Affordability
Think about some of the brands that quickly rose among the ranks in the past few years: Oppo and Vivo. At least in the Philippine market, these two phone makers are growing fast. This is thanks to a conventional design mantra bolstered by decent price ranges and great camera setups. Particularly, in Oppo’s case, you could even argue that the internal specs don’t appear too impressive, and instead, it’s their powerful selfie cameras that do all the sales talk. Meanwhile, Vivo also offers decent specs and good cameras for great prices. Neither attempt to do anything drastically different like a second screen on the back, or modular attachments.
You chalk their popularity up to the simple fact that people simply aren’t looking for innovation. At least, not on their own. The common consumer wants a phone that works without any hiccups, with a good camera for social media. It’s that simple. Plus, if the brand can offer a good price, then even better.
What Doesn’t Matter – Unintuitive Modular Attachments
Returning to my earlier LG G5 example, that particular smartphone was actually criticized for having ‘broken’ modules. While I doubt that they were shipped in a ‘broken’ state, I assume that these modules broke easily because of exposed parts or circuits. This results in a complete waste of money since users are unable to use the module in the first place.
Not only that, but sometimes modules are really, really hard to figure out. Not every module is intuitive, after all. Sometimes, they have to be attached by completely taking the phone apart. Sometimes, you just have to slap them on. Because people in general have no idea how to use them at first. Not only that, but it will get to a point where people just completely abandon the thought of using a modular device.
Smartphone Innovation is…
But let’s get back to the original question: is smartphone innovation dead? The answer: not really. That’s because innovation doesn’t necessarily have to mean drastic changes. Sometimes, innovation is just improving the processing speed of the chipset, or making the camera a dual lens. Overall, as long as people keep buying devices that provide a very specific need (decent specs + a good camera), that’s where the focus will stay, and that’s where the growth will happen.