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Peak smartphone?

21 February 2018

There was a time when many of us upgraded our PCs every couple of years because the technology was moving at such a fast pace that you'd see a significant improvement in power and performance with each new machine.

These days however, most folk are happy to use what they've already got for an awful lot longer -- because the performance hikes are much less (as a percentage) than they used to be and we've reached a point where even a budget machine is good enough for the average user.

Apart from the gamer community, and perhaps people like myself who spend inordinate amounts of time watching videos render, there's really little need to have the newest and fastest iron every time a new CPU or upgrade is announced. When you're just watching cat videos on Facebook or editing the occasional document, faster machines simply wait more quickly for your next input.

Right now I'm wondering if we've achieved the same situation with smartphones.

There was a time when people would rush out to get the latest iPhone or Galaxy the moment it was released.

The usual reason for such enthusiasm was that each revision of the smartphone bought with it faster processors, better screens and a raft of other improvements that justified the expenditure.

However, I'm wondering if the smartphone you have today isn't already more than fast enough and until we get foldable technologies, bigger screens than the ones we have would be a nuisance rather than a bonus.

Given that a top-end smartphone costs over an order of magnitude more than an entry-level unit, upgrading from last year's model to this year's one is not something that you do without at least a little thought. This, and the fact that some of the latest changes (such as the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack) are actually a backwards step in some people's minds, may well see the loss of "upgrade impetus" very soon.

The desktop PC market was hit hard when customers decided "no thanks, last year's machine is more than good enough thanks" and it can only be a matter of time before the smartphone market hits the same wall.

So what can smartphone manufacturers do to create products that are once-again a "must have"?

Well I guess the one thing that would attract a lot of people is better battery life. Having to charge a smartphone virtually every day (or more with heavy use) is probably one of the biggest complaints that most folk have about these devices. Unfortunately, breakthrough battery technology is probably several years (or more) away so the only way we'll get more hours per charge is through lower-power devices and they're not appearing as quickly as manufacturers might like.

As far as functionality goes... what more can a smartphone do?

A lot of the latest "improvements" tend to be focused on slightly gimmicky stuff like biometrics including fingerprint readers, face-scans, etc. Is this really enough of a "must-have" to hand over another $1,500 or more each year to have the latest and greatest?

I guess what I'd like to know from readers is:

  1. Do you feel the same impetus to upgrade to the latest smartphone as soon as it is released today as you did two, three or four years ago?
  2. What is the one thing above all else that would convince you to upgrade to a new phone?
  3. When was the last time you upgraded your phone and why did you do so?

I bet these are questions that phone-makers have been asking, or should have been asking in recent times. The answers will be very interesting and somewhat indicative of whether we really have reached "peak smartphone".

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