Go back and have a look at videos on Youtube from eight years ago. What do you notice? Nobody has a smartphone, except for a few anoraks over at Apple. Why? Well, if you remember, the phone market in 2008 wasn’t exactly exciting. Yes, we had some pretty nifty phones from the likes of Sony and, yes, Nokia. But we would hardly call them smartphones by today’s standards.
There was progress in mobile phone technology since the late 1990s. But many people thought that phones would continue to improve, much as they had been until that point. And that we wouldn’t see any game-changing technology that would give us something fundamentally new.
It turns out that those people underestimated a Silicon Valley entrepreneur called Steve Jobs. Jobs had a vision that everybody in the world could have a handheld computer, what we call a smartphone today. And ever since the release of the original iPhone, we’ve seen explosive growth and ever more capable phones.
Now Apple has released their sixth iteration of the iPhone and are moving on to their seventh. But now that we’re in the middle of 2016, something doesn’t look quite right about the mobile phone market. As we read more about market trends, we start to discover something rather worrying. Just this week the news came out that global smartphone sales had stagnated worldwide. For the first time there was essentially no growth in the global smartphone market. In other words, we’ve reached peak-smartphone. And the most exciting industry in the world has plateaued.
It’s quite a change from the 60 per cent growth rates we had seen back in the height of smartphone mania in 2012 and 2013. In those years, enormous international markets, like India and China, were being exploited. And manufacturers, like Apple, Sony, and Samsung, were selling hundreds of millions of handsets.
But now, some of the excitement of smartphones has begun to wear off. And this is to be expected. When you think about it, not a lot has changed since the original iPhone back in 2008. Yes, the phones might be a bit faster. And yes, we might have more apps on Play and the App Store. But fundamentally what has changed?
While it’s true that smartphone sales were always going to peak, many have sensed a shift in consumer attitudes. We’re just not as excited about smartphones as we used to be. We’re told that the next frontier in consumer electronics is going to be wearables. But are these really game changing? The Apple watch still needs to be tethered to an iPhone to work properly. And other wearables, like Fitbit, aren’t fundamentally game-changing.
One thing that looks certain is that the hype around smartphones that we’ve seen over the last few years cannot last. Eventually, smartphones will go the way of the PC. The technology might be impressive, but time will dull the excitement. We need something truly revolutionary if we’re going to be able to relive the magic of the early smartphone years.