Smartphones are, in a word, ubiquitous. With 86.29% of the global population owning a smartphone in 2023 (according to Statista), one would think—pretty justifiably—that the smartphone market is doing pretty well indeed.
The opposite is actually true. Let’s take a quick look at the smartphone market and its decreases, as well as the lack of innovation that is largely blamed for this decline.
Or, in other words, the market is shrinking.
Not all that long ago, the smartphone market was relatively flooded with companies looking to carve out a share for themselves. As time has passed, however, many of these companies have left the space. Some, like LG, Microsoft, and Amazon, simply closed their smartphone divisions and stopped making the devices, while others have been bought and sold, like Motorola—once a leader in the space—has experienced a few times.
2022 alone saw a 12% decline in the market. Admittedly, this doesn’t seem to line up with some of the statistics we’ve referenced here. How could the market for a product category with an 86%-plus global adoption rate be in decline?
Here’s the thing, though: a lot of these people aren’t shelling out for a new phone every 18-to-24 months like they once were.
There are various reasons for this, of course, but a big one is the lack of innovation most of the smartphone space has seen.
If you ask the manufacturers, they certainly are. Nowadays, a budget smartphone can compete with what a flagship from just a few years before had to offer. However, this accomplishment means less each year, as flagships introduce less and less with each iteration.
Keep in mind, these flagship phones—famously, the most expensive option—once showed massive improvements across the board each year. New chipsets were incorporated into the builds, displays were brighter and increased in resolution, there were real improvements made to the camera setups, and user interfaces tried new and innovative designs.
Lately, this has changed. Real innovations have been scarce, but costs have risen more than ever. Any actually innovative changes we’ve seen haven’t really gone anywhere, as the practical need for these changes falls short of the costs.
As innovation decelerates, so does the incentive for people to buy a new device. Let me put it this way: would you jump to purchase a new device, for twice the money you paid for your last one (that still works, by the way), that really didn’t add anything significant?
That’s exactly why so few companies have persevered in the space and managed to make a profit. They’ve filled their marketing with buzzwords referring to innovation, without doing very much of any substance to back up these words.
Sure, having the latest and greatest new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel is nice, especially when upgrading from an older phone from a few years ago, but the differences between the model from one year to the next really doesn’t justify the cost for most consumers.
However, despite all this, it can’t be denied that the smartphone is integral to today’s societal makeup. This is what has largely preserved the need for continued buy-in, despite the lack of any functional enhancements of any note.
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