Mark Bridge writes:
At Mobile World Congress 2012 I spent quite a bit of time talking about quad-core smartphones. The year before had seen a fair amount of 3D screen technology. Back in 2010 it was the growth of apps. This year I wasn’t hearing so much about mobile device innovation.
Sure, there were new handsets, from the €15 feature phone to the HD phablet, but none of these really stood out as far as I was concerned.
It seems that manufacturers are being held back by a number of factors. Smartphone screens have reached the limits of the human eye - such as the ‘Retina Display’ trademarked by Apple - so there’s now less room for further innovation there. Smartphone cameras are more than good enough for print and online use, which means a few extra megapixels don’t make much difference. Smartphone design is heavily influenced by the distance from the human ear to the mouth - and by the physical characteristics of the materials being used for manufacturing. How much slimmer do phones really need to be?
This all suggests our industry is stuck with making smartphones that are slim rectangular boxes… and it’s going to keep making them until everyone in the world has one. Or two.
So if you can’t differentiate your device through its design, its camera, its display or its size, you’ll need to find another way. That’s why I’m expecting to see a lot more innovation around features and content this year.
MWC 2013 certainly provided plenty of hints that ‘other innovation’ was about to become a hot topic.
Enhanced audio quality and noise reduction were being demonstrated by NXP Software and Audience. Both companies can reduce background noise and improve voice clarity on a phone call, although you may not necessarily see their names promoted because manufacturers don’t always want to admit they’ve turned to an external specialist for support.
Then there was Immersion, which showed me how haptics and screen-sharing could be used for social interaction between two people regardless of distance. One person’s on-screen touch could be mirrored on the other person’s device, complete with gentle vibration when the people ‘touched’ each other.
When every smartphone has a similar shape and a similar spec, any difference can become a reason to buy. That’s why, as I said in Friday’s podcast, I’m expecting to see much more of this peripheral innovation in the next few months.