WSJ [paywall] The Big Hangup: Why the Future Is Not Just Your Phone The once-revolutionary smartphone is losing its power to amaze—and maybe its singular hold on our live: “Steve Jobs took to a stage a dozen years ago this week to introduce a revolutionary new product to the world: the first Apple iPhone. That groundbreaking device, and the competitors that followed, changed the way people communicated, ordered dinner and hailed a taxi. The technology world reoriented around the smartphone, supplanting the personal computer, MP3 players, the digital camera and maps. And the mobile economy was born. Today, it looks like the era of smartphone supremacy is starting to wane. The devices aren’t going away any time soon, but their grip on the consumer is weakening. A global sales slump and a lack of hit new advancements has underlined a painful reality for the matured industry: smartphones don’t look so singularly smart anymore. While once smartphones were like a centripetal force sucking up tools from dozens of devices, from flashlights to calculators to game consoles, functions are now flying out of phones and onto other products with their own embedded smart connections. Wristwatches can now text emojis. Televisions can talk and listen. Voice-activated speakers can order diapers. The number of “connected” devices in use that can stream music, clock mileage or download apps has more than doubled to 14.2 billion in the past three years, according to market researcher Gartner Inc. The total excludes smartphones.
What’s shifted most is the smartphone’s monolithic status as the device that software companies and businesses needed to reach mobile users—and for consumers to access their services. Now the universe has expanded to voice apps, car infotainment centers and wearable devices…Twelve years after the iPhone’s debut, more than half of the world’s population owns a smartphone. While that leaves billions of potential first-time buyers in countries from Indonesia to Brazil, they reside in poorer areas, offering lower profits. Meanwhile, the market in wealthier countries such as the U.S. has become saturated, as the improvements in the devices become more incremental and many consumers have decided they don’t need to get each new upgrade.
- As recently as 2015, annual smartphone shipments grew at a double-digit clip. Those days are over: The industry saw its first declines at the end of 2017 and remained negative all last year. A major driver was China, the world’s largest smartphone market, where annual shipments sank 16%, according to government data…”