2017: The Rise of the Affordable Smartphone
Smartphones have become an integral part of our everyday lives in the decade that has passed since the launch of the iPhone. Apple’s device had a business model similar to what the company did with its computers: it was hardware made by the company running an operating system made by the company, with apps approved by the company. The release of Apple’s iPhone, along with the iOS platform, was soon followed by the launch of Google’s Android, with a completely different approach: Google only provided the software, leaving it to smartphone makers to build the hardware, providing them with the software at a minuscule cost. This allowed Android smartphones – which had much friendlier price tags – to spread like wildfire all over the world. Yet Apple’s iPhone still remained an etalon, all later smartphones being compared to it – even today.
Smartphone makers have made it their habit to release an “iPhone killer” each year. For a decade, smartphone hardware has kept improving, finally exceeding even some of the gaming consoles when it comes to gaming performance. At the same time, the initial excitement of the smartphone has passed. Wireless operators keep pushing smartphones on users, leading to an unprecedented spread of smartphones all over the globe. Flagship phones have kept being released, yet their “excitement factor” has decreased over the years. Last year, Samsung has released a flagship phone, the Galaxy S7, that for the first time has been less exciting than its predecessor, the Galaxy S6.
At the same time, the usage habits of smartphone owners have changed – today, they focus more on communication and social media than at the beginning of the smartphone era. People are reading the news and the latest mobile pokies reviews, they are keeping up with the stars’ and their friends’ social updates, they are taking pictures, updating their social media accounts, listen to music, and play games – yet not the ones that need the powerful hardware provided by the latest flagships. In short, flagships have become less exciting than they were ever before, leaving a lot of room for affordable models to grow.
We are not at a point where the development of smartphone hardware has overtaken software – and we have the increased fragmentation of the Android platform to blame for that. Today, smartphones from four or even five years ago, with outdated operating systems, are still being used – not for playing, maybe, but for more “traditional” tasks, like calling and texting. And they are perfectly capable of doing that. Last year, less than half of all Android users had version 5.0 or above running on their handsets, the rest running versions like KitKat (4.4), Gingerbread (2.3.x), and even Froyo (2.2). With such a large mass of outdated devices out there, app makers have to scale down their software to run on them – and this limits their capacity to make use of the full power of the latest handsets. And the price is an issue as well – flagships often cost twice as much as the perfect phone for the average user.
Considering all of the above, I think it’s safe to say that although flagship phones are still the most exciting models each year, people have likely understood that they don’t need them, and they don’t want to buy them. Instead, they are looking for models that are hundreds of dollars cheaper, yet perfectly capable of handling everything in their everyday use. Flagships are perfect for stealing the headlines and the attention of the media, yet they don’t represent the bulk of smartphone sales anymore.