For years now, people have been wondering what the future of smartphones will look like. Some people think that they will be super thin, others are of the opinion that they will be completely transparent. Finally, many think that the current trend of foldable smartphones is the way forward. But there's something missing from this reasoning: they change shape, but they're still smartphones! Where is the real innovation? What will be the paradigm shift this time?
Those of you old enough to vividly remember the era of so-called "dumbphones" will undoubtedly have fascinating memories of the strangest (but also wonderful) devices created by manufacturers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, Motorola, etc.
At the time, a phone that could fold, for example, was considered more than normal, almost mandatory at some point. Yet, each of these devices managed to differentiate itself from the competition and offer something truly unique, or at least something that could make it more attractive.
The paradigm shift
However, those days are in the past and the smartphone market is now much more homogeneous, not to say stagnant. Phones are almost indistinguishable from each other, mainly because the screen is no longer just used to display information, but has also become the main means of interaction. In short, there is very little to innovate, especially in terms of design, when the device is occupied almost entirely by the display.
It's undeniable, let's face it: this paradigm shift occurred when Apple first launched its iPhone in 2007, thus creating a new product category, "all screen" devices without a physical keyboard, pushing the market irrevocably in that direction and triggering one of the biggest changes the mobile technology industry has ever seen.
A very rapid abandonment
The transition to the touchscreen has not only enriched the interaction, but has led smartphones to become the largest channel of transmission of user data, for better or for worse. It has revolutionized the usability of these devices.
Already the first phones managed to profoundly influence the lives of billions of people, let alone smartphones that are able to perform any task and are used for virtually everything. The speed with which the mobile phone industry has abandoned physical keys has been incredible. To date, probably only Blackberry continues to manufacture smartphones with a keyboard.
The problem, however, is that this time there is no paradigm shift. We know the current trend well - larger and larger screens to provide greater interactivity and comfort, but also to be able to display more content. New interfaces, such as Samsung's One UI, are introduced every day to provide who knows what kind of improvement, but we are far from taking another step forward as it happened in 2007.
New era? You wish!
It's 2019 and all I hear about is foldable smartphones. As a 360-degree technology enthusiast, I have to admit, I'm interested in this new trend and I can't wait to try out the new devices belonging to this emerging category. However, you also need to keep your feet on the ground and ask yourself whether this is really about innovation or not.
According to Samsung's VP of the mobile division, its new folding device will create a revolution and usher in a new era of smartphones. I wonder what he means by that. The fact that they're called "foldable smartphones" doesn't mean anything new to me. So it's a folding smartphone? Based on what we have been shown so far, the new device performs identical operations to a current phone. The only two differences I've managed to find are a display that folds and the necessarily higher price (as if the 2018 smartphones weren't expensive enough already).
If this is the revolution for Samsung executives, I'm sorry but I just don't buy it. The truth is that current smartphones, even though they maintain rather stable sales (the drop in 2018 compared to 2017 was 3%), no longer guarantee the same profit margins as before. And this is especially true for Samsung, which has recently suffered a significant drop in device sales.
Why is that? Because the level of tech is now equal among almost all manufacturers, even those with less capital. This is why giants such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and co. have decided to use their know-how and bottomless bank accounts to shift the axis of their income with these phantom new ideas, making us believe that they have created a new product category.
They are full of crap! Foldables are a fairy tale created to ensure a slice of the market still unreachable by many competitors and get higher profit margins that can cover the losses of the industry's "inflexible smartphones". But not only that - one of the reasons why these big companies want to be the first to get on folding smartphones at all costs is because of their disproportionate ego. They must always keep a high profile and cannot afford to be seen equal (or weaker) than the competition.
Have you ever wondered why Apple has never publicly talked about its possible entry into the folding smartphone market? Too expensive? Not really. Don't you have the right know-how? No way. Will you keep it a secret? Almost impossible lately. Then why? I don't have an exact answer for this question, but one thing is clear: Apple has always known which buttons to push and which markets to enter. If the Cupertino company is showing no interest in foldable phones, there's a reason.
It is also true that there are many patents that could prove me wrong, but let's be honest... They are, to say the least, futuristic and we know very well that the registration of a patent does not guarantee its future realization.
Innovating lies elsewhere
What we should focus more on is "non-physical" interaction, such as voice commands, or augmented reality. This is something that could easily be implemented right now thanks to Google Assistant, Siri, Amazon Alexa and co. While some people continue to see the smartphone as the only possible evolution, it is legitimate to believe that the most valuable technology should adopt a completely different form, more dynamic and accessible. How much longer do we want to remain slaves of a device that has to be held in our hands?
Imagine being able to interact with every surface of your home. Each mirror, window, desk could become a touchscreen connected to the Internet that can identify users at any time via biometric security. The future I imagine is like that, without any kind of device in my pocket or in my hands.
A future without devices?
The idea is already well known among futurists and every day we try to understand how this technology can be integrated into our daily lives. One of the main problems is not so much that it can't be achieved, but rather that it is difficult to convince people to get rid of smartphones. The desire to own tangible objects is too strong. But trust me, whether you want it or not, sooner or later something similar will happen. The fact that content no longer needs to be within the individual devices is proof of this.
Users will, therefore, be free from the slavery to individual devices when they have access to communications and networks as individuals. The human tendency to feel affection for objects has not yet disappeared, but as soon as it happens, I will have my popcorn ready to watch the big companies fall at the foot of true innovation.
Foldable smartphones, go ahead. You are a "trend" and, as such you are destined to become extinct.