Has smartphone evolution run out of steam?

Has smartphone evolution run out of steam?

In terms of technology, the 2000s represented an exciting time to be alive.

Having seen off the Y2K ‘bug’, the decade passed in a blur of innovation and great leaps forward.

Dial-up internet gave way to broadband. Cathode ray TVs were replaced by LCD versions. The Nintendo Wii revolutionised gaming, and in-car sat nav replaced paper maps.

This was the decade when mobile phones became smart, with Apple’s iOS (2007) and Google’s Android (2008) competing against the revolutionary BlackBerry OS (2002).

The Noughties is remembered for iconic handsets like the original iPhone and the Motorola Razr, QWERTY BlackBerry keypads and the debut of 3G mobile internet services.

By comparison, everything that came afterwards has been somewhat anticlimactic.

A decade of disappointments

The 2010s saw ongoing evolution but no real revolution other than 4G, which simply made mobile data faster.

Phones got smaller and then bigger again. Cameras steadily improved while speaker quality declined. But innovation was largely restricted to the introduction of Millennial technologies like NFC.

The Noughties heralded innovations like WAP technology. Phone screens went from text-only to monochrome, then colour, then LCD and finally LED.

Over the following decade, bezels slowly shrank, but incremental improvements in pixel quality could often only be identified under laboratory testing.

Worse has followed in the 2020s, since any innovations which have emerged often led to cul-de-sacs.

Consider LG’s dual-screen Wing handset, which was nothing more than a prototype when the company withdrew from the global smartphone market.

Similarly, bendable phones remain a curio rather than an essential purchase, especially since apps (another Millennial phenomenon) are rarely able to exploit their potential.

Features like wireless charging are sometimes handy but hardly exciting, while swappable batteries promised much but ultimately failed to be reliable enough.

As prices of high-end handsets climb ever-higher, consumers are increasingly favouring mid-priced models like Google’s Pixel 5 – a fine handset, albeit one lacking any innovation.

The Pixel 5 even rolled back the under-screen fingerprint sensor of its predecessor to a more traditional rear-facing sensor instead – seemingly another technological dead-end.

The launch of 5G has been bedevilled by legal action over frequency auctions and conspiracy theories, with 4G networks routinely outperforming their successors in real-world testing.

Where do we go from here?

For smartphone evolution to gather pace, we need ground-breaking new technologies which appear thin on the ground at the time of writing.

Phones already do everything we need them to, and plenty more besides.

It’s possible voice control will replace apps, but that would be an organic process only applicable to certain services. Gaming is unlikely to be affected, for instance.

If it wasn’t for the sheer power of marketing and advertising, many consumers would happily retain their existing phones for several years without upgrading.

It’ll take something seismic (such as the introduction of light-powered LiFi connectivity) to regain the once-frenetic pace of smartphone evolution.

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