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Why have we stopped upgrading our phones?

Lucie Spraggs's picture

How many people do you know with the latest iPhone? The latest Samsung or Huawei?

Not many? Well, that’s not surprising, if recent phone sales are anything to go by.

Are we still buying smartphones
 

Despite a dazzling array of new devices on display at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: phones that fold, phones with buttons, phones with enormous batteries, expensive phones, budget phones, 5G-ready phones… they aren't exactly flying off the shelves.

Marina Koytcheva thinks the smartphone market is ultimately stabilising after a frenzied few years but predicts that 2019 is going to be "a difficult year".

"Yearly sales of 2 billion mobile phones seemed so close just a few years ago, but might become a distant dream for the industry," she wrote in a report on declining sales.

"Our new five-year outlook is for 1.9 billion units on an annual basis until 2023."

This has certainly proved correct so far, with Samsung's overall operating profits being down by 60% year-on-year for the first quarter of 2019 and Apple’s iPhone sales falling since the launch of their last handsets.

Price

One big barrier to buying the latest flagship models is the price, do you really need to speed thousands on a new phone (or as much as double that on a contract!)?

People are now asking themselves what they’re ACTUALLY doing with the phone, as most modern flagships are built with INSANE specs that most people seldom take advantage of.

You could save hundreds by opting for a cheaper model, or an older model, for instance, and still get everything done that you need to.

If you’re literally just using it for calls, texts, email and some web browsing, do yourself a favour and get an older model – the Galaxy S9+ rather than the Galaxy S10+ (saving £150), for instance, or the iPhone 8 over the iPhone XS (saving £400).

Where’s the innovation?

The last half decade of smartphones has produced a lot of very similar devices with small incremental improvements. Critics of the phone industry argue that despite the prices of handsets increasing dramatically, innovation has stalled. Each new handset might have a slightly better camera, slightly faster processors than the last, but for the average consumer, one black rectangle is pretty much being replaced by another.

Samsung and Huawei seem to be the first to challenge this ‘innovation drought’ with announcements of folding screens. But, until then, are we struggling to see the point of upgrading?

Phones not the right fit?

The traditionally male-dominated tech sector has been accused of ignoring at least 50% of its target market - women - in not acknowledging that women's hands and trouser pockets are generally smaller than men's while flooding the market with ever larger devices.

Are we waiting for 5G?

5G smartphones are going to be taking over in 2019, with many of the biggest names in the business already confirming 5G-ready handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S10, Huawei P30, and OnePlus 7 are scheduled for launch next year.

However, unless we purchase 5G-ready devices, we’ll get left behind in the new 5G world.

Phone ‘break-ups’

Another factor that could be hurting smartphone sales is the growing sense of unease among many smartphone owners about the amount of time we're spending on our devices.

Last year, France introduced strict rules around the use of smartphones in schools, banning them for all pupils under the age of 15.

Apple, Google and Facebook also released tools that show you the extent of your screen time - a move which was greeted with amused horror, and some criticism.