Next Smartphone Revolution Will Be Price
1. Bigger display? Not really. At around 5 inches, hands aren't getting any bigger and the bezel is approaching zero. No more room for expansion here. We have reached the limit.
2. Better display resolution? Not really. The first 1080p display is here ( HTC Droid DNA on Verizon (VZ) ), but 720p was already good enough for high-end phones. Going beyond 1080p? No way, not useful for the human eye. We have reached the limit.
3. Thinner phone? No way. People want more battery life, not thinner phones. At some point, too thin becomes uncomfortable to hold. We have reached the limit.
4. Better battery life? Absolutely. There is plenty of headroom on this one. A source of perennial potential improvement. Infinite improvement ahead.
5. Faster networks? Sort of, but they are already here. The LTE standard will improve, but Qualcomm(QCOM) has the requisite chips and they will upgrade every year. We have reached a plateau for the next five years.
6. Integration/simplification? Yes, always. A major goal for SKU-reduction and cost reduction is to enable more radios on one chip. This is where Qualcomm leads the way today. Continuous improvement ahead, but largely invisible to the end user.
7. CPU/GPU processing power? Yes, sort of. There will always be improvement here, but for most people right now, the hardware is far ahead of the software being used.
8. Camera? Yes, for sure. But how many people care? How many people think the current high-end smartphone cameras are good enough?
So what's the bottom line from this list? Smartphone hardware evolution will focus on improving battery life, and to wait for Qualcomm to put more radios onto one chip, so that they can achieve the goal of eventually selling one phone around the globe.
Therefore, imagine this headline/advertisement: "New smartphone from Big Carrier XYZ! It's got 14% better battery life and the manufacturer is able to have you buy the same SKU that he sells in Nigeria and Japan."
Doesn't that make you thrilled to spend $349 or $649 to upgrade your smartphone!?
Me neither. If that's all there is, the upgrade cycles will stretch out for an extra year or so, unlike the recent experience of the upgrade cycles compressing as smartphone makers were racing to get to the current high-end plateau of superior specifications.
So is that all there is? Is there no more lever to pull for the industry in terms of advancement?
Of course not.
There is always price. And when the hardware race has almost "frozen" at a certain display size, at a certain display resolution, and everything has LTE with a CPU that far exceeds the ability of the software to utilize all of it, then they will all have to turn to cost reduction far more aggressively.