After the usual dramatic buildup and better-than-average media circus, Apple debuted its new iPhone 5 models (the colorful C and superior S). The firm went on to sell nine million over the first weekend. It was yet another great product debut from the Cupertino techmeisters, but already the buzz is building for iPhone 6, rumored to have a larger screen and new alloy body. One question lingers, however: Were there really nine million people left who didn’t already have a smartphone, either iPhone or Android? (BlackBerry? What’s that?) How many of those buyers were iPhone users already? How many will always be? That question is for another day, as now we consider a bigger picture.
Only six years? Really?
Seriously, now, since the original smartphone was the 2007 iPhone, we now have some six years of experience with these devices. We know what they can do, and what they can’t, as some 90 percent or more of smartphone innovation, say the know-it-alls, has happened already. As we know from the iMac example, Apple and other smartphone makers will do a lot of revising and tweaking, particularly to improve interoperability with consumer electronics, vending machines, point-of-sale (POS) systems, etc. But the smartphone is a mature category with an established form factor. If “design creep” sets in, and makers keep stuffing in keyboards and enlarging displays, it’s time for another form factor. Say hello to phablets.
Fact is, smartphones are reaching saturation point in many regions, according to Glen Yeung of Citi Research. Writing at the Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch website, Yeung says, “Developed markets are approaching full saturation, suggesting that smartphones are nearing replacement-only mode.” Other analysts counter that no such saturation exists, and also point to the 3G/4G capabilities of devices from digital cameras and desktop computers to iPad rentals. As smartphones took 51.8 percent of all mobile phone sales in Q2 of 2013, topping feature phone sales for the first time, end-user mobile phone sales totaled 435 million globally, up 3.6 percent since Q2 2012. What saturation, many ask?
Accelerating tech adoption
It’s all about momentum and maturation, Yeung explains. Smartphones have been adopted faster than PCs—a mini-PC that phones home is pretty handy—so the market peaked early. It took the desktop PC market a dozen years to mature (saturation 2008), laptops 10 (saturation 2012). Smartphones and tablets, Yeung continues, “are expected to mature in 2015, giving smartphones a product life cycle of seven years and tablets one of five years.” All of today’s technologies—including all the mundane (and vital) things in CRE’s office equipment rentals inventory: printers, copiers, scanners—are being adopted, revised, and reborn in accelerated fashion. Like kids today, they’re growing up fast.
If smartphone sales do hit a ceiling, there will still be tech companies entering the market from every direction. Remember, though, that the devices—from tablet PCs or phablets to wearable phones—are perhaps even more valuable for the enormous opportunities to heap all kinds of software and services on top of them. Nothing in the smartphone market will be revolutionary at this point, but that’s fine. Since we move ahead through constant change and adaptation, we need to put our trust in good old evolution.
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