Mobile Phones – In Need of Innovation

Even the most foolhardy tech commentator would not say that we are at the end of innovation in the smartphone market, but it seems like the major manufacturers are running out of ideas. Announcements of new mobile phones at Mobile World Congress, the annual get-together of tech-giants in the mobile space, are limited to minor improvements at best this year. Tweaks to design, some extra processing power, but nothing that will impact people’s lives in the same way as the smartphone innovations of the past 7 years.. If you bought a top-end smart-phone in the past two years, it is unlikely that the new phones will offer anything significantly better. In short, the area is searching for the next big innovation.

One of the key reasons people switch mobile phone plans is based on the desire for a new handset, and new devices are a key selling point that mobile operators use to lure or keep customers. So what will the next big innovation be? Firstly, mobile phone providers are increasingly moving into niche areas of interest. Huawei, Samsung, and Apple (among others) have moved into wearables, which are certainly useful, but perhaps primarily to niche segments such as sports enthusiasts, people who like monitoring themselves, or tech-fashionistas!

Battery life remains one of the most-wanted features from mobile phone users. While almost all manufacturers claim to be improving battery life with each new phone, these are incremental, rather than revolutionary, improvements . A major increase in battery life would prompt many people to consider purchasing a new phone, but, for the foreseeable future, most people will have to continue with their nightly charge routine.

Screen sizes have increased over the years as people’s appetite for consuming media such as streaming video on their smartphone has grown. The first iPhone screen size was 3.5 inches (which was in itself seen as a jump in size at the time), while screen sizes of up to and over 5 inches are now common. However, we are reaching the physical limit of pocket-size and, as such, it is unlikely that manufacturers can increase screen size much more. Some phones have toyed with projectors, but again (as with battery life), a new innovation in this area could prompt a new wave of devices.

The phenomenon of slowing technological innovation is not unusual. More mature technology markets, such as televisions, camcorders, and computers have moved towards commoditisation, with new devices from different manufacturers virtually indistinguishable from each other. While there are still brand differentiators in the mobile phone market, it seems that the decade long feast of mobile innovation is slowing at least.

Mobile phones are an area in search of the next big innovation. Given the proliferation of devices in our society, a significant change in technology would, once again, fundamentally change our way of interacting. Some of the most exciting spaces that we have seen for innovation include a battery life that would be measured in weeks rather than hours, some of the mobile-powered virtual reality technology from Samsung, as well as developments in wireless charging.

Hopefully by the end of 2015 we’ll have a phone with a month long battery life, a virtual 50 inch display, and breakfast cooking abilities!