We've Reached Peak Smartphone

We've Reached Peak Smartphone

Two things became apparent after the end of the Autumn 2016 Smartphone Glut. One: Android is still a second-class citizen when it comes to gaming, and two: smartphones are in a ridiculously boring place. Sure, the iPhone SE was a pleasant attempt at diversifying Apple's line up, the Galaxy S7 is water-resistant phone, the G5 has an accessory slot and the HTC 10 is Android at it's purest. But that's genuinely all there is to each of them. These devices have not redefined the way we phone, nor have they blown us away with unprecedented speeds, or wowed us with extraordinary battery life.

Each of these new phones is merely a marginal improvement over last year's model. And they're all actually remarkably similar in some ways. The Android phones all feature the exact same processor. They're all using fast charge batteries that get you up to 50 per cent battery life in a matter of minutes. They all have 1440p displays that are pretty damn stunning. They're all slabs of glass and metal that will jut out of a woman's pocket and stretch out a man's.

The only differences between them are in the minute details. This one's water resistant, or that one has a "slot". This one uses TouchWiz or that one uses near vanilla Android. The few phones that still excite people are the whacky ones (or the Apple ones).

Phone design has plateaued. The wild advances we've seen for the last near decade are tapering off. They're fast enough to play 1080p video without hiccups (something I wouldn't dare to have said in 2014) and the cameras can catch decent images in low light. Even the screens have improved. You'll be hard-pressed to find a truly ugly display outside of super budget phones intended for developing markets. Same with touch response. Four years ago half the phones available were a nightmare to use. Forget playing games, it was hard enough typing your password.

Now the real trial isn't finding a good phone -- it's finding a bad one. And that isn't a bad thing (as boring as it is for everyone covering it).

Stability in design and marginal improvements in speed and battery life means you don't have to upgrade your phone as often. Which is great now that most mobile phone providers are moving to off-contract prices that can quickly reach $900 or more. Consumers always win when consumer electronic improvements become glacially innovative.

But the companies lose. Apple saw their sales growth slow due to consumers' boredom with the iPhone. Samsung too. The smartphone boom we've all been enjoying since 2007 is coming to a close.

It's happened before. In 1998 every computer looked the same -- a beige box sucking dust in and spitting out heavily pixellated renditions of the Oregon Trail. Sales were slowing, the dot com boom bust was coming and everyone who was going to purchase a computer had.

That's when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and created the original iMac, and like the iPod and iPhone, it sent a shock through the industry. Design (and colour) became critical to success. People got excited about computers again.

I'm not saying we need a slew of neon orange and grape purple phones with translucent cases to reinvigorate smartphones. That would actually be awful. But after another year of boring upgrades and barely improved internal specs it's clear the smartphone industry is shifting. Joining computers and televisions as once cool tech that's now painfully boring (if absolutely vital to our way of life).

It's a bummer for our eyes and the companies' bottom lines, but it's going to be great for our wallets. So long two-year update cycle. I'll probably hold onto my iPhone 6 for another year.

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Comments

    Blinkered vision, much, Alex? Did you miss the Lumia 950 and Continuum? Android and iOS devices might have plateaued but it looks to me like Microsoft is just getting started.

    Personally, I am still waiting for someone to make a phone with an eInk display. That model with two displays looked stupid but if you could get a phone with a primary display that looks as cool as that thing's eInk display, I'd be all over it.

      Microsoft phones may be good hardware, the OS might be good too, but with horrible app support, no one wants one.

      Agreed but ignoring/slamming Windows Mobile is has been a hallmark of Gizmodo for years. Hell in a recent article the mod exposed his bias directly when someone pointed out that "All phones" doesn't just include Android and iOS.

      Microsoft have continually failed to foster robust 3rd party support for Windows Phone. If that ever changes it may become a viable third choice. For most users though it simply isn't worth their time. I honestly don't see Continuum changing things.

        That's just rubbish. I've had every app I need since I got my first WinPhone in 2010. In fact, some of them are so much better than what's available on iOS and Android that it is mostly the apps that keep me on Windows Phone. If you can't find everything you need from the more than 500,000 apps in the Store, then you aren't really trying.

          I use plenty of apps essential for my job as a clinician. They aren't on WP and show no signs of support. Your attitude is misplaced - just because it works for you, don't assume that there are apps for my use.

          I'm sorry, I didn't realize the world revolves around you. Doesn't matter if people have different app needs to you, as long as you have what you need all other opinions are invalid. Get your head out of your arse idiot

          I used to have a Windows phone but got rid of it because the browser is utter shit and constantly crashes. You can't find any decent apps and there is no pebble support. So take your self righteous opinions and shove em where the sun don't shine.

          Last edited 22/04/16 4:48 pm

      You mean the yotaphone? My friend has one, seems decent.

      It's not viable for most with the current apps available. It doesn't have support for my home ducted air and other smart home features or the apps I need for work.

      Windows phones are only just catching up in terms of specs, dont kid yourself. Until they get that android app emulator working then we may see some interest but until then good luck to them.

        Very few people buy a phone based on specs. I couldn't even tell you what processor was in mine, or how much RAM it has. It simply isn't relevant for what I use a phone for and the same is true of the vast majority of phone users.

          Oh so you have personally interviewed every single smartphone owner? I'd love to see the documented statistics you made to back up your claim.

      it looks to me like Microsoft is just getting started.

      It's looked that way for over half a decade now, which is the issue. It's not a matter of Gizmodo ignoring them as it is the whole market has by and large forgotten WP exists.

      If Continuum fails to gain traction, which is a very very real possibility in the mobile phone space, then I'm not sure where that leaves them. I think MSs more interested now in pushing its apps on iOS and Android than it is making any real inroads in the mobile OS space anyway based on their movements this past 18 months.

      Last edited 21/04/16 3:54 pm

        I believe Microsoft wants the phone to be the core of everything with continuum. With UWP apps it wants people to develop apps for desktop, to open the door on the app market to a variety of hardware. So leveraging the desktop to get apps in the store that can potentially work on any device. It seems Microsoft plans to have mobiles that can run desktop software. They then envision computers at work becoming dumb terminals and everyone using their phones to connect to preexisting hardware. Anyone who has had to hot desk will know the pain of logging into a new pc. This is a wholistic vision that encorporates personal and corporate customers, where benefits can be seen from both sides is brilliant. If played out like they want it, they will attract business and customer purchases, which drives app development etc.... This is the most exciting thing to be happening in tech at the moment.

          When it comes to MS in the mobile phone space, I'll believe it when I see it. Their goals are lofty, but there's already technologies out there to address productivity for hot desking and the like, many of which are probably more suitable to medium to large business. That's also coming at a time where cloud computing's uptake is only growing which again de-emphasis's the need to have much in the way of local computing power for many tasks.

          I guess it'll be interesting to see the uptake, but from a personal perspective I think there's far more exciting things happening out there. Even if I could load a full desktop on my mobile device, I wouldn't do it anywhere other than home anyway, To that end thats potentially one of the biggest hurdles, many individuals and businesses probably don't want to mix personal and business computing environments, and without that cross over Continuum loses some of it's appeal.

          It's something I think will find it's legs more easily on tablets too than Mobile phones.

            Interesting. BYODevice is taking off so I think the borders between personal and business is disappearing.

        Continuum will make more and more sense as phones become powerful enough to be our everyday PCs (which is inevitable). And if you think that will never happen, just search for the article about the Kangaroo PC from yesterday, which is a full Windows 10 PC the size of an iPhone, then imagine how powerful a third or fourth gen version of that kind of device will be in just a few years time.

          I don't doubt that'll happen, what I doubt is whether we need to be running Windows from a phone when that day comes. We're quickly moving towards online services, he'll even MS is betting big on it, which massively de-emphasises the need for a specific desktop OS on the user end. Businesses have even more options available already through things like Citrix where desktops can be largely virtualised. Many of these movements not only make continuum less significant, they cut out many of the device dependencies you'd still have when using it.

          Not that Continuum won't work with those other online services, but so will any device. As someone that uses Windows at home Continuum doesn't particularly excite me...things like remotely hosted desktops etc seem far more interesting and have more potential in my opinion.

      Microsoft aren't "only getting started" - love is clearly blind in your case. The 950 devices pretty much sank without a trace.

      As far as I can see, they've all but conceded defeat in the mobile space. All their services are now available on other platforms, and generally they run better on those platforms too.

      MS say phones are "just another device" that runs Windows, just like a desktop or laptop or tablet, but for now that's just a lofty vision rather than a reality. Apps matter - a lot.

      I agree that Continuum is cool, but it's a very niche feature and one that I doubt many users would truly find useful.

      it looks to me like Microsoft is just getting started
      I agree, but they've been "just getting started" for years now.

      Did you follow MS build 2016, where they admitted that windows phone is on the back burner?

      don't trust microsoft.
      w10 is fantastic but all their hardware efforts so far have been pretty but totally unusable in the long run. I got burned with a surface 3 and a lumia in the past and if you look at the forums for modern iterations of these people are still reporting the same thing. "I've got X or Y bug that microsoft promised to fix more than 3 or 4 months ago and still nothings been done about it"

      and lets be honest its not going to take one company with a good os to fix the app problem it takes the combined effort of millions of developers for that to happen. And even android as widely spread has problems trying to catch up i wouldent be hopeful for a third having any better luck any time soon.

      As much as I wanted to believe in windows phone its just unrealistic.

      Sorry folks but i had a windows 8 phone and also got my girlfriend one and it was pretty damn functional and had a better GUI than android or apple. With windows 10 and the common platform between devices they are probably basically owning the shit out of everyone now. It might take a year or two more to show but it will come out of the woodworks eventually. The article is right, I've owned an array of Nokia's, then iPhone then HTC then Samsung, and they are all basically the same. Currently on the galaxy S6 edge. Gorgeous phone, I love it. But frankly, microsoft is more interesting and when my work stuff, my home operating systems, etc all integrate and I feel like my devices are all running on one brain - that will be the system that wins me over...and its microsoft i think will get there first because obviously, most of us are using microsoft products at work and running windows on our home PC's, some people (Not me I have PS4 right now but former x-box owner) then it will become a no brainer. Apple rose on the perception that "it just works". Microsoft (ironically given some of the crap like windows ME) are set to take that mantle. Only fanatics are running chrome books. Fan boys are running apples OS but it doesn't integrate with their android phones or their work computers.........first company to tie it all together properly will win in my opinion.

    I agree with you Alex, I'll be holding onto my 6Plus till there's an edge to edge pixel screen, completely wireless charging from air signals like wifi or Bluetooth, with 4TB of storage without the need for cloud.

      I just found myself asking "What would you do with all that storage space? " ...in a a few years TB on phones will be normal.

        Yeah a decade ago 250gb was a decent size for a portable HDD, now 2tb is fairly standard!

          True, I've got a 4TB hard drive, its on its third leg, will be reaching the forth by the end of this year.

            Is it full of random videos that you can now stream­čśä

              From Melbourne to Cairns, I don't think you'd want to stream with only 3G of data.

              Last edited 22/04/16 10:48 am

        I store a lot of movies, TV shows, music, photos, games for the kids and apps. My phone opens the door to my car, to my house, changes the channel on the tv, opens the garage, holds my money like a wallet and soon enough with 4K videos downloads, it would easily reach 4TB.

        I don't like to use cloud, don't want to pay every year to hold my personal photos of my cat. I've got an Apple 4TB storage device years ago that I used to back up my data, but the hassle of connecting it to my computer then dragging the large file to the phone is so inconvenient, not to mention the hours I have to wait for one movie to be complete.

        On long drives we use my iPhone 6plus as an overhead screen roof mount in the car, it's big enough and I can adjust the brightness at night. It's a perfect device to silence the kids, but with 128TB, there will be plenty of reruns of monsters inc from Victoria to Cairns.

        My phone is the biggest part of my life, if I lose it, it's a very big deal, that's why it's with me 24/7, it does almost everything, except coffee, surely one day, Apple will figure this one out.

        Sorry for the lengthy details, just wanted to cover everything. Cheers

          I forget to add, I use it as a normal phone sometimes, receive calls and text.

          Don't pay to store your photos then. There are free alternatives.

            What about personal 4K videos from my 4K go pro that I forgot to mention. Those cats on 4K, wow, so much detail...

              Well that doesn't really have anything to do with a phone so.....why is it here?

              By they way, my car is making a strange sound, any idea what it is?

                You do know that the HERO4 only has 64GB, right? So would be good to have a phone that is 4TB to transfer the 4K videos on to, without the need for cloud or extra hard drives on the go. Besides, HERO4 black has no screen to view, so you have to transfer to the phone first in order to see that awesome 4K video of your cat bending over backwards for you.

                  If you could put 4TB in a phone you could put it in a camera too.

                  Darren, you do know that the hero4 black doesn't come with built-in LCD screen right?

                  It would be nice to have the best of both worlds, but we can't have a huge screen hanging over our bike helmet.

          I guess everyones needs a different, I have 64GB on my phone and lucky to use half, photos are backed up to google for free, music streams from spotify and google music, and my 16TB home NAS holds all my videos that I can stream through Plex. Works for me and so much easier for each type of file to be stored in one location thats available from any of my devices.

          To me local storage is a thing of the past. TO THE CLOUD!!

      If your current phone lasts that long, I'll buy this new one for you!

      I wonder if the cloud will ever be fast enough with future changes in network speeds and bandwidth that the phone could just have a shit load of ram instead. This way you could pick up any device and everything you want will be there. Seems to be the way things are already heading.

    This article seems eerily similar to one that was published on Ars Technica overnight...
    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/04/the-rise-of-the-400-smartphone-you-want-how-much-for-a-flagship/

    I purchased my OnePlus One December 2014 for $430. At the time I figured I would get a new one in less than a year as I didn't expect much from this phone.

    Here we are in 2016. I had a chance to use an S7 for a week. Aside from the camera improvements and vibrant screen, the experience was identical to my oneplus one. I feel no need to spend $900+ to upgrade my oneplus one with the current select of flagships.

    I need better battery life (even if the phone becomes thicker), and better cameras. It's about time they started making array cameras for our phones. And start building in the ultra-clear solar-cells underneath the touchscreen glass.
    And what's with phone sizes? They're so thin now, but they're so large. If i wanted a tablet I would get one. Besides there's already a class of phones called phablets, why are our normal phones as big as phablets now? are our phablets going to be as big as our tablets next?
    Make them pocketsize and thicker like 12-15mm, that way you can cram in a bigger battery, more and better technology, better lens and image sensors, multi-layered displays (like an eink beneath transparent oled), all kinds of stuff. I don't get the point of trying to make stuff paper-thin at the expense of usefulness.

    I way way way agree with you on building in the ultra thin solar. The tech is there, though maybe pricey right now, but it seems like a no brainer. Even the fake light in my office might run my resting phone for 30-60 minutes more a day if I wasn't using it. Then they can cut down on battery size and work harder on better form factors! And for that matter, what about kinetic power? There have been watches our for years that run forever purely based on you walking around...why aren't they harnessing this on phones? Probably only make a tiny contribution but it's already miniaturised enough from watches, what could it hurt?

    I don't care about having the thinnest phone, just keep improving the construction, camera, battery and security of handsets.

    The rest is gravy.

    What a bunch of crap. Just because we aren't radically shifting form factors or 'inventing' new colours (I'm looking at you pink) doesn't mean that everything will be boring now. I like the samsung galaxy edge screens, I think they have a lot of potential. The fact that we have several options for water proof phones that don't look like something made for running over with your car is awesome. Wireless charging is awesome too, and it's the combination of features that manufacturers put together that people are after. Technology has peaks and troughs, this might be a bit of a design trough but it's definitely a features peak. I think it's useful to compare race cars with flagship phones, they push the boundaries, try out a bunch of stuff that eventually makes it down to the more standard models that most people use. But you have to have the race cars, and sometimes they crash and burn and sometimes the focus is on boring stuff, but the competition and the drive for performance means that they continuously come up with better and better stuff.

    I fundamentally disagree with the whole premise of this article. Alex says that "the few phones that still excite people are the wacky ones or the Apple ones." Which is just plain rubbish IMO.

    It's rubbish not only because the wacky ones aren't exciting in anything other than a "that's cool, but meh" way, but also because Apple doesn't have a model that's exciting unless you're a rabid fanboy. Which is not to say that they're bad devices, but there's nothing inherently exciting about them either. Nothing stands out about them at all, with the possible exception of the SE's small size.

    I think the latest crop of Android smartphones show the level of maturity and the amount of real design that goes into these products these days. For the first time in a while, virtually all of the offerings by the major manufacturers are easy to recommend to a potential buyer. Instead of a clear-cut "best" phone of a generation and a collection of also-rans with glaring faults or omissions, there's a large number of excellent options out there. It's no longer a 2-party system, but a wide field of contenders, and most of them have a niche feature that makes them compelling to certain buyers in their own right.

    It's true that there are very few phones launched with genuinely new or left-field features these days, but that's just a sign that designers are refining the user experience rather than just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The features that are gaining traction are genuinely useful ones - wireless charging, waterproofing, various forms of camera innovation.

    What's more, the kind of build quality and features you'd expect to see reserved for expensive flagship devices are now available on much cheaper handsets, and this is making technology more accessible to everyone.

    It's a great time to be a smartphone buyer.

    Last edited 22/04/16 9:31 am

    Well I for one am anxiously awaiting the iPhone 7. Owned my first iPhone with the 6, after two Galaxy S models (3 and 4) and the iPhone 6 was magical by comparison. It does help that I now own 2 imacs, two ipads, multiple ipods etc... so the all in one ecosytem is a huge selling point. Heck, I can answer my phone with my computer.

    I don't know what it is about apple products, it's hard to put your finger on exactly. But every design that comes out of that place........I just want it. No other brand has ever achieved that. Besides, I kinda want exactly my iphone 6 128g but the Plus size next time. Everything else new is a bonus. It does what I need it to and still looks like an amazing sliver of glass. No case, no screen protector......rawdog it if you have the 6, trust me. They're far too sexy to put in a case.

      Bigger screen I recommend it, not going back to the kids size. A must for web browsing.

      I recommend a cover if you want to keep it sexy, but that cover has to do more than protect it's shininess, at least come with a stand to watch Netflix.

    Nice article and comments, in summary it seems that:

    1. iStuff are typically 1-2 generations behind in adopting hardware and software features available in Android, yet some people think iStuff is exciting?

    2. Windows "n" means it will freeze on you "n" times per day, top that up with a PhD to install Android over Win10 to run Clash of Clans on the phone (500,000 junk apps x zero value = 0)

    if you need more proof re the Apps stuff just see how much Visual Studio is in bed with Xamarin!

    So anyone with an Android phone stick to it until time to renew the contract, then get a new one. Anyone without an Android phone, get one :)

    Apple phones exite ......... reeeheheaaaaaaaaaaally ??? in my best Jim Carrey voice ..... if you say so : ) ,
    sort of reminds me of an exciting time i had the other day when a strong wind blew a Empty shoe box into my driveway ,
    when i looked out my lounge room window , i was just glued to that very exciting card board box ...... for hours ..... it just sat there like a tiny slab sided cardboard monolith ..... not moving ..... magically ..... mystically .... amazingly ....... Mysteriously ..... stuuuupendously !!!
    I wanted to run and get my camera , but the thought of taking my eyes off this exciting development ..... i just couldnt do it .
    i had an Epiphany , it was sort of like ....... imagine if they made a very expensive slab sided plain compact phone with basic features ......... but then created another plain slab sided phone with basic features , but with a slightly longer body in a 16 gb version with no other storage options and basically everything else the same specifications and also less features compared to most other phones ................ and then exorbitantly only charged me only $1,364.51 twice the price ....... how exciting would that be ????
    Oh that would be exciting :) LOLZ .
    Here take my money !!!

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