It’s time for mobile makers to put up, or shut up. We need to see revolutionary – not just evolutionary – upgrades. We need better battery life, and we need it yesterday. We need our most relevant must-have gadget to be drop-dead simple to use, unhackable, unbreakable and less expensive. Oh, and how about less addictive, too?
We need our smartphones to wow us again.
State of the Smartphone 2019
This Friday, the first batch of 2019’s shiny new smartphones – Samsung’s S10 line – lands on store shelves and in people’s hands across the country. It also kicks off a new year of flagship phone launches hoping to invigorate sagging sales.
Samsung felt the pinch with the Galaxy S9, which worried analysts when it failed to match the sales of the S8 lineup. Apple is noticing a dip, too, with iPhone sales revenue dropping by 15 percent the first quarter of 2019 compared to the year prior.
Are people bored with tech’s “next big thing?” Is there any reason to run out and buy the newest, hottest handsets anymore?
I was there when Samsung unveiled their latest round of new phones in San Francisco in February and, for the first time in about five years of annual unveilings, felt excitement ripple through the crowd. Something is changing. But it’s not here yet.
I mean, sure, the S10 line delivers some of the best new phones on the planet. The overall specs are impressive – up to five cameras (compared to the iPhone’s three lenses), epic battery life, more power than most gaming laptops, and it even doubles as a wireless charger for other devices – but do you need it?
The answer to that question reveals something about the smartphone market that will likely be true for years to come.
Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Folding phones are getting all the hype so far in 2019. Samsung also debuted the Galaxy Fold in February, and beleaguered Chinese smartphone maker Huawei matched them with the foldable Mate X. These devices up the ante by doubling up the screen size of a normal smartphone and folding it in half. It also gives us something really revolutionary to get excited about.
But is it the next big thing? Not if your wallet has anything to say about it. The Galaxy Fold carries a price tag of $1,980. The Mate X – which will be hard to buy for anyone in the United States due to government restrictions on the company’s devices – will cost even more, priced at around $2,600.
As much as I want everyone to ooh and ahh when I show up the most amazing new tech around, I can’t imagine shelling out that much money for a first-run folding phone-tablet. Is this really going to recreate the “screen envy” craze of years past? If it sells like hotcakes, you can expect the folding phone trend to grow, but if nobody wants to shell out two grand, it could be a gimmick that dies a quick death, which is what happened when Sony tested similar waters a few years back.
I still own the Sony Tablet P, though I haven’t used it since 2012. It’s a sunglass-case shaped, dual-screen, folding tablet that debuted at CES 2011 for $600 and was dead in the water by the end of 2012. Was that a gadget before it’s time or a sign of more shuttled ideas to come?
The new phones are coming: The real-world impact of foldable screens and 5G
Keeping Up With The Phoneses
We used to buy new phones like we buy new watches, cars, or even the hottest new handbags. Having the best new shiny gadget was as much status symbol as a do-everything device. Now, even those of us who cover tech for a living suffer from mobile-malaise. The overall tech is older, a lot more expensive, and I like to think that we’re all a bit wiser about it all, too.
Today, the main reason to get a new phone usually comes down to your current device having poor battery life after being used all day, every day, for months on end.
Galaxy S10+ review:: At 10th anniversary, Samsung shows it knows how to build a great phone
Samsung is already betting big on 5G, and it’s definitely ahead of the pack in adopting the technology in its newest flagship, coming out later this year. But again, we’ve been through this before, and each new step up in network speed means a long, drawn-out adoption process where you never really know when your city is going to get the latest tech and greatest speeds.
It won’t be widespread until 2020 or later.
For most of us, unless your phone is falling apart, there probably won’t be a good reason to buy a new flagship phone anytime soon, and maybe not even in 2019 whatsoever. Of course, I say that, but every year I hope Apple has something up its sleeve to disrupt and truly deliver again. I am actually holding my breath on that.
The few who desperately need to be on the cutting edge of mobile tech – and are for some reason willing to drop a huge amount of money on one of the few foldable phone options that might hit shelves in the next few months – might get a couple of compliments at a local Starbucks with a Galaxy Fold or some other eye-catching oddity, but they’ll be in the minority.
Today, I fall in the wait and see camp. Whether it’s from age, a tighter budget, or a bit of “wired wisdom,” it all comes down to wanting to be truly wowed again. I want this life-changing gadget to do more – and after all these years going all-in on the newest, latest, greatest – I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
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