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The maturing of the smartphone industry is cause for celebration (economist.com)
43 points by hvo 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments



Is it mature, or has all the low hanging fruit been plucked?

I want things like a phone that I can set on a flat surface and it will project a large monitor view onto a white wall and also project a holographic(?) keyboard in front of the phone that I can type on (I'm not expecting to feel the keyboard since it is just light - but when I hit the A "key" it should type an A).

I want a battery that lasts a week.

I want a wired headphone jack.

I want it to be fully waterproof.

Etc.


Personal devices need to focus harder on actually improving people’s lives rather than their time using the devices. All these antipatterns that arise from the overuse of information can be solved with the right focus.


perhaps a radically new approach is required. machines should serve us, not we them.


> Is it mature, or has all the low hanging fruit been plucked?

Aren't those things the same thing?


I think it is safe to say that laptops are a mature market, and they can't do any of that either, except for the headphone jack.

So how does those dreamy claims make the market immature?


I want a laptop dock for my iPhone!


Like Samsung dex?


I wish high-end manufacturers like Apple will take the opportunity here and further minimize the environmental and social externalities to justify a premium price.

I'm happy to pay a premium for high-end quality, especially if I don't have to feel guilty about it.


Which externalities exactly?

With battery replacements and iOS upgrades improving performance, it seems like nobody has done more than Apple here, and indeed their stock price is even suffering for it.

What more are you looking for, honestly?


The end of marketing phones as fashion devices. Phones should be seen as tools and they should be expected to last about 8-10 years. There is no reason they can't other than apple and the rest make a lot of money on people throwing out working phones to stay on trend.


Ok, should we end the marketing of cars as fashion devices? So many things could be seen as utility rather than fashion and yet here I am overpaying for tacos in the hipster part of town.

Someone is going to do it and make a lot of money, I'd prefer it to be the company that isn't actually an advertisement company pretending to be a phone manufacturer.


Yes, the economic incentives of the world are totally fucked. Do not mistake what we have currently for the best situation or acceptable. What apple and almost every phone company does is immoral and completely unacceptable.


Immoral and unacceptable according to whom and which value framework?


Even the tools you buy are, to some extent, the result of marketing. They are just marketing to different demographics. DeWalt et al. are mostly differentiated by marketing and business strategy than the innate quality of their tools. Why do you think they have such a strong yellow branding on all of their devices? There is no world where marketing is not Paramount, and furthermore it's not evil-often it serves and important function.


Marketing is fine. If I buy a drill because of an advert I won't feel compelled to buy a new one next year because it has a slightly different shape and my current one got artificially limited.


I just don't see phones regularly lasting 8-10 years. I use my iPhone daily and don't have a strong urge to upgrade just for the sake of upgrading, but even I tend to replace my phone ever 2-3 years - it just makes financial sense to do so, and battery replacements can only go so far with that.

As phones become more and more powerful over time, I can see my phone replacing my iPad or (perhaps) even my laptop - but I don't see them lasting as long as that. They're smaller (and therefore more prone to being dropped), with you constantly, and are mostly glass. Even with technological progress aside, I would expect most people to go no more than five years between replacements.


You know, not all phones are like the iPhone. There are baseline/midrange phones with more battery charge capacity than even an iPhone XS Max! And a headphone jack! And an IR blaster, even. And an OEM system which can be officially unlocked! (which might help you make the battery even more long-lasting, by keeping its state of charge well below 100%.) Yes an iPhone will have a planned time-in-service of a mere 5 years no matter what, but a modern baseline/midrange phone can be expected to last a lot more than that. (Aside from factors that can't be meaningfully planned for, such as changes in mobile network standards.)


Just about anything can last that long if maintained. Current phones struggle to last that long simply because that's what works best for companies and there is little consumer demand for change.

Our current lifestyle of buying a new phone every 3 years is incredibly selfish and is destroying our planet.


Actually I think buying a new car every three years is much worse.


iPhones are mostly glass, due to the inexplicable decision to make the back out of glass - a material so fragile as to be a metaphor for fragility. Most phones only use glass for the screen.

I always joke that the next iPhone will probably be made out of porcelain. I'm not even sure that would be worse.


This won't happen as long as we have an economic system based on capitalism: companies will always seek to increase their revenue. Increasing replacement rate leads to higher revenue. Hence yearly new car models, tv models, clothing trends, etc.

Also, are you willing to accept increased unemployment when less employees are required due to diminished demand?


This is the most bullshit answer. By that logic we should all just be buying things non stop just to throw them out because it gives more people jobs.

When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.

There are unlimited jobs that require virtually no consumption in areas like research, art, teaching, music, wildlife conservation and so many more.


I'm not saying it's good, i'm just pointing out that we might need to reconsider capitalism as the main tool to structure our economies.

Most of the areas you mention are funded by other revenues, either directly by companies, or indirectly by governments taxing revenue or income. Without revenue most of these areas will also see reduced budgets.


Continuous growth is not possible on a finite planet.


Compared to all the things you consume, a new 6oz phone every 2 years has a rather small impact on the world. I'd start with the bigger things.


New phones' impact on the world is substantially more than the percentage of landfill it makes up. For example, look at it from a financial perspective. Suppose you spend 1/6 of a premium smartphone's price per month on food. You buy a new smarthphone every 2 years. So for every dollar you spend on food, you throw 25 cents at a smartphone company. Considering the regularity with which we have been doing that, how can that not have a significant impact on society?

Then again, one of the pillars of the consumerist dogma is that you can change yourself and the world by changing how you consume, which, in my opinion, is false, at least in our current socioeconomic reality. So while I think it definitely matters where you put those 25 cents, consumerism as a whole is as much a distraction as a problem.



I'm very optimistic that Apple is going to be forced to innovate outside of the iPhone for the first time in many years.

Mac users: rejoice!


There is a related story: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18895064

I think (as I said in the previous discussion) that the key issue with the lengthening phone upgrade cycle is security patches.

Manufacturers are trying very hard to have built-in obsolescence: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/05/31/dutch_court_says_sa...

Unless this fundamentally changes, most non-techy users will have to needlessly upgrade perfectly good devices, run insecure software or become much more savvy about which manufacturers are better in this regard - and the outcome is likely to be some malware has a very large distribution followed by a lot of press.


I think regulations around mandatory support periods should be set for the entire EU rather than on a country-by-country basis. They were arguing for four years and that seems too short.

It would be nice if they could set the mandatory support period to the same length as the patent protection period. If Samsung thinks four years of support is enough, than the patented technologies in the phone should only get four years of protection.


> Manufacturers are trying very hard to have built-in obsolescence

This would be a golden opportunity for a manufacturer to come out with a promised 5+ year support cycle. I think one of the reason they don't is because each manufacturer has 78 slightly different models every year to support, but in a maturing market they should have a better idea on what the market wants and cut that down. Why does know one learn the limited SKUs lesson from apple?

In that respect the Librem phone is arriving at almost the perfect time, it's close to PC levels of supportability.


> Why does no one learn the limited SKUs lesson from apple?

I think even Apple has forgotten that lesson.


My iPhone 5 from 2013 is still in daily use, typing this message on an iPad 3 from 2012, on my desk is an iMac from 2008. If you are careful, these product will last a long time. No need to replace every 2-3 years.


I have an iPhone 6 Plus that's going on 4.5 years old and it's doing fine (better than last year even with iOS 12), save a temperamental ring/vibrate switch. I recently sold my 4s that was in a drawer (about 7 years old at the time) and it also worked fine.


Yup, I totally want that. I want a phone that will last 5 years or longer... ideally about 10 years, like the old ones used to.


The "old ones" were fundamentally different devices, though...


This is one of the reasons I'm looking forward to the Purism Librem 5. Running essentially standard GNU/Linux with mainline kernel drivers for all the peripherals means you're not dependent on any one entity to provide security updates.


For your average consumer, this is probably a bad thing.


It comes down to innovation. I bought iPhones because they were innovative. People aren't buying new phones because there is little marginal utility in upgrading anymore.

We can break the innovation opportunities down into several areas:

1. Hardware

2. Operating System

3. Software/Apps

Hardware hasn't been innovated. The closest thing we got was the hope of a modular phone that was bought for the patents (?) and killed inside of google. The best thing we get is better cameras, biometrics, and screen resolution. Not many people care about cameras (not including selfies), biometrics is sort of a lame duck (who needs their face constantly scanned? or fingerprints as passwords for everything), screen resolution doesn't anymore because the screen size is so small -- majority of people play easy games, like LoL, PUBG, and Candy Crush clones.

Operating system experience is converging on features between iOS/Android to the point they are really indistinguishable.

Software is limited because of hardware specs, walled gardens, and the learning curve -- but much more nefariously I software devs might just be afraid if they build something cool these companies would just turn around and steal it/bake it into the OS.

Alternatively we could see adoption start moving horizontal into other peripherals like VR/AR/IoT devices (watches) -- but I'm not holding my breath on that until I see a company come out with something amazing. For instance the precursor to the iPhone was the Samsung i300, the leap from the i300 to the iPhone wasn't that big for me, but it changed a lot of things that just made sense.

The leap for peripherals right now would be too great to expect a magical turnaround in adoption -- but I would love to be first in line to be proven wrong.

So where does that leave us? Well we need to rethink things from the ground up again. We've hit local maxima with experience.


> The leap for peripherals right now would be too great to expect a magical turnaround in adoption -- but I would love to be first in line to be proven wrong.

I have a feeling that Apple forcing the move to AirPods is laying the groundwork for that. I would love an iPad that was just a battery and a screen, that connected wirelessly to my phone for processing. Likewise, I'd be interested in a laptop that did the same - but it has to be wireless, and the phone's battery would have to be at least two or three times the capacity of the iPhone X.


I think we need people who have been thinking natively about these devices to think of ways they can actually improve our lives, instead of the people who are still used to thinking of it as a feature sheet and expecting to just strap the newest hardware in. Most of that needs to come at the OS level.


Phones still have a long way to go. They have all the corporate controls PCs don't, because corporations missed that boat.

I want a removable battery, micro-SD slot, audio jack, and control over the OS/interface comparable to my desktop. I don't give a crap about shaving a millimeter off the thickness, or 3 grams of weight. And I'm one who trims my backpack straps extra short.


Granted: buy Android.


Except for the non-crippled software part, even with LineageOS or similar. A desktop OS has a lot of software infrastructure that Android doesn't have.


Apple has a stated goal of increasing the usable life of iphones.

These people need to realize it’s strategic.

http://www.asymco.com/2018/09/13/lasts-longer/


Apple phones are relatively standard hardware with good software and a (unjustifiably?) high price tag.

So it should be no surprise that they last the same as other phones with similarly standard hardware (but considerably lower prices).

Nevertheless some Apple owners choose to ignore this or do not appreciate it being pointed out. :)


Apple phones are relatively standard hardware with good software and a (unjustifiably?) high price tag.

In some ways, I wish this were the case. But my reading is that Apple's custom processors are still far ahead of the competition, and last time I looked it was hard to match Apple's fit and finish, especially if you are looking at anything other than the very top of the Android market. And for something that you keep in your pocket and handle regularly, a feeling of solidity is worth something.

It's a tragedy that you can't buy an iPhone with an unlocked bootloader. There's some interesting potential for innovation there.

(This is even more true in some other market segments. The hardware for the last couple of generations of Apple Watch is amazing, and that makes OS-imposed limits on what third party apps can do tragic).


The A12 is peerless I admit, and a good 4-6 months ahead of the rest of the market.

It's a shame that Huawei phones can no longer be unlocked too, part of a trend towards dumbed down consumption devices I suppose.




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