GN Focus | Smartphones

Future talk

Thinner devices with larger screens and longer battery life that work across platforms and operating systems. GN Focus looks at where smartphones are headed

  • By Megha Abraham | Features Writer
  • Published: 13:43 June 18, 2012

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  • Image Credit: Agency

This is the age of tap versus type, well-stocked app stores and intuitive user interfaces. Smartphones are fast eclipsing traditional feature phones in popularity polls. But where are they headed? GN Focus picks out five trends.

The entry-level smartphone: Smartphones may only comprise 12 per cent of global handsets (according to Cisco’s 2011–16 forecast) for now, but market research firm Creative Strategies’ 2011 report predicted that 80 per cent of all phones sold in 2015 will be smartphones, rising to 100 per cent in 2018. The quick replacement will be due to a rapid drop in prices and an increase in revenue opportunities for carriers.

The Middle East leads the smartphone race globally with 62 per cent of mobile users owning smartphones in the UAE and 60 per cent in Saudi Arabia, according to a May study by Our Mobile Planet and Ipsos MediaCT. “The ICT market itself is shifting as smartphone users move from being a minority among consumers to a majority,” says Michael Wu, Director, Huawei Device, UAE. “[This has influenced] how people consume media on a daily basis, which impacts not only smartphone manufacturers but other entities such as media groups, service providers and software developers.”

Entry-level smartphones are now competitively priced and packed with enticing features. Si2i Mobility will debut its brand of Spice smartphones and tablets in the UAE this year. The QT and M FLO Series will sport Android 2.3, dual-SIM capability and 3G connectivity. And Nokia’s Asha series is the brand’s lowest entry point for smartphones. Other interesting variants include the Bee 9200 and the Samsung Galaxy Y.

GN Focus predicts: The proverbial death knell for the feature phone. Last October Sony confirmed that it has begun to phase out feature phones to solely focus on the smartphone segment. It’s only a matter of time before other majors follow suit.

Form factors: “A few years ago it was all about who could fit all that hardware into the smallest chassis,” says Todd Wood, Senior Vice-President, Design, Research in Motion (RIM). “Nowadays, consumers access much more content on their smartphone web browser, stream video clips, and play games. From recent customer feedback, design and appearance rank high up with the fundamentals of mobile internet access.” Larger screens will remain a leading trend, followed by increased demand for thinness and battery life — Motorola’s Razr Maxx boasts a best-in-class 17.6 hours of talk time — this year. Interestingly, the stylus is set to make a comeback (the Samsung Galaxy Note with S Pen and LG Optimus Vu for starters). RIM’s hybrid BlackBerry 7 phones have multiple options such as the keyboard for emails and BBM as well as the touch screen for content and pinch to zoom among other features.

GN Focus predicts: As more features and faster speeds become the norm, energy efficiency and longer battery life will take precedence both in design and user device demands.

One phone is everything: Smartphones are starting to replace portable music players and digital cameras. At the 2012 Mobile World Congress, smartphones sported everything from naked-eye 3D and external connectivity drives to built-in projectors. The most notable example of integration is the Asus PadFone, which becomes a tablet when slipped into the dock (via a micro USB port and a custom micro HDMI port). “Designs will continue to evolve to yield devices compatible with demanding, multifaceted lifestyles. Robustness needs to be combined with aesthetic beauty in a package that isn’t overly bulky or inconvenient,” says Mahmoud Sayed Ahmed, Marketing Director, Motorola Mobility, Middle East and Africa (MEA). From a software perspective, developers are now building tools and content that work across platforms (regardless of the operating system (OS) or brand) to harness the potential of smart mobile devices in ways that work best for the user.

GN Focus predicts: Just like mobile number portability enabled users to switch operators, data stored in the cloud will enable users to migrate between brands, as applications become readily available across platforms and operating systems. 

New OS on the block: While the Android and iOS platform pretty much head up the smartphone OS space, Microsoft has thrown its hat into the ring with Windows Phone 8 for phones and tablets. The OS comes with a brand-new interface specifically crafted for future tablets, blending the Windows Phone 7 ability of interacting between the user and PC interface, with its bespoke Metro tile user interface. Nokia, Samsung and HTC are set to offer the new OS on their latest models. Right now, limited quantities of the Nokia Lumia 800 with the Windows Phone 7.5 (international version) are retailing at Dh1,899 in the UAE. An Arabic platform is expected to be rolled out sometime this year.

A sneak peak of the Windows Phone 8 will be showcased today at the Windows Phone Developer Summit in San Francisco. Research firm International Data Corporation’s latest forecasting report predicts that the Windows Phone will become the world’s second-ranking smartphone platform by 2016. Gustavo Fuchs, Business Group Lead of Operator Channels, Microsoft MEA, says, “If you consider the region and how the market share is distributed we could very well be looking at being the number one phone here.”

GN Focus predicts: Windows Phone will be a game changer. Consumers will be able to buy a Windows Phone regardless of the manufacturer and have access to Microsoft’s own applications marketplace and cloud service, Sky Drive,  enabling multi-device synchronisation on the Windows platform. What’s more, it’s the only OS that hosts the Xbox Live application that provides an additional layer for gamers looking to compete across the device and console.

The power acronyms: Here’s what’s trending — Quad-core, 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE), Near Field Communication (NFC), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Bluetooth. Quad-core processor offers double the processing speed of a dual-core, improving performance and battery efficiency. 4G LTE offers data speeds that are faster than standard Wi-Fi, and wireless communications protocols such as NFC and RFID will power the smartphone to its next chapter (think mobile wallets, tap-and-go payments and e-commerce among others).

Making its regional debut this fall is Huawei’s Ascend D Quad, the world’s fastest smartphone in its class. It comes with a 1.5GHz quad-core and Android 4.0 OS. The Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, and LG Optimus 4X HD are worthy contenders.

GN Focus predicts: The mobile wallet will be the currency of the future. As advances in mobility begin to sync with our daily lives, the future consumer will no longer be tied to one location to conduct business, access services or organise his/her personal life.

Fact Box

Data-only plans

Voice-based pricing plans could soon be a thing of the past. Internationally, mobile phone plans that count data-only usage are likely to become a reality within the next 24 months, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson suggested recently. In such a scenario, phone calls and text would be just another form of data, the AP newswire reported. Stephenson didn’t say AT&T has such a plan in mind, but suggested someone in the industry could offer one. “I just think that’s inevitable,” he said.

Already, the key growth driver in the UAE telecom sector remains mobile data, expected to grow 13 per cent annually, according to research from Booz and Company.

Responding to this latest development, Matthew Willsher, Chief Marketing Officer, Etisalat, expects increasing amounts of mobile traffic to be carried and transported as packet data, as opposed to circuit-switched voice. As a consequence, customers will spend more money on data packages. “But in technology industries, we often overestimate changes in the short term and underestimate changes in the long term. So I would not expect circuit switch to disappear over a couple of years. But in ten years’ time, the change is likely to be well beyond our imagination,” he says.
— Sanaya Pavri/Features Writer