In the coming weeks Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Microsoft are all slated to launch new high-end smartphones to consumers who can be forgiven for asking, “Why bother?”

Since the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007, the design and function of most modern smartphones have not changed much. And that appears to be the case this upcoming season. Nearly all of the phones are expected to be sequels to existing models.

Sure, they will pack bigger and better screens, faster chips and better cameras. That’s just a given, thanks to Moore’s Law and the industry’s continued ability to do more with the same amount of silicon.

Just scan the aisles of your local wireless carrier store. Rows upon rows of rectangular black slates, one indistinguishable from the next. Inside nearly all of them are powerful computers that are capable of running apps, surfing the Web and answering the occasional voice call. Folding displays and other transformational technologies appear to be perpetually just around the corner, leaving it unclear what kinds of short-term changes device makers can add to lure buyers to upgrade their existing phone.

What cellphone makers lack in creativity they have tried to make up for in marketing dollars. Eager to generate the level of excitement of an iPhone launch, all the big phone makers will crowd the next few weeks with splashy Apple-style events.

HTC kicks off the launch spree on Aug. 19. Samsung’s new line makes its debut on Sept. 3. Motorola and Microsoft both have events on Sept. 4 as all the companies are looking to introduce their phones ahead of Apple’s Sept. 9 event.

While most of the events are likely to feature new hardware, it’s likely that HTC’s launch will focus entirely on software. The company is widely believed to be working on a version of its HTC One (M8) that runs Windows rather than Android. An image of such a device was posted to Verizon’s website, though neither the carrier nor HTC have commented.

Samsung, meanwhile, has slated the fall installment of its “unpacked” event for Sept. 3, with the next Galaxy Note a sure bet and other hardware likely. There’s also talk of virtual reality goggles.

Microsoft’s device group is expected to announce multiple devices at an event in Berlin on Sept. 4. Sources say to expect new Lumia phones, with the company looking to show that it continues to innovate on the camera front with more than just megapixels. One device is rumored to have a more capable front-facing camera for better selfies, while Microsoft may also have a higher-end model equipped with the PureView branding that Microsoft uses for its top-end cameras.

Motorola has teased updates to the Moto X and Moto G, in addition to the expected launch of its Moto 360 smartwatch.

Of course, the most eagerly anticipated launch is the one from Apple, which sources say has been developing two iPhone models for this year — one with a 4.7-inch display and the other with a 5.5-inch. Both would be a significant bump from the 4-inch screen on today’s iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. Dozens of unconfirmed photos of these devices litter the Web and they all appear sort of like some permutation of existing iPhone designs.

But the real question is whether any of these companies — Apple included — has come up with any significant new advances.

Let’s hope the companies do better with the wave of wearables and watches that are expected to flood the market this fall from the same cast of characters.




7 comments
Robert
Robert

<rant. I certainly hope so. I'm waiting for it. I really don't like the current 'smartphones.' The graphics are too small for my old eyes, the virtual keyboards are almost impossibly awkward, and the stupid dots for passwords can render apps impotent. I don't like having to be hunched over the little bar of soap to use the device. Gestures are not a treat, I don't want to have to touch it to make it work. I'm waiting for voice command to be 100% reliable and a heads up display that is much more subtle than Google Glass. And an ecosystem that solves my problem instead of causing problems. Music and ear buds don't have to be part of the equation. But really good video conferencing does - like the video in Fuze.com. /rant>

gprovida
gprovida

My goodness how jaded we have become. Aside from others, Apple could be accused in 2007 of merely building a phone without a keyboard, but the reality was a computer that fit your pocket. The generations since have shown remarkable transformations in jobs performed for the user, a new world of apps that barely touches on what can be done with touch, explosion in sensors integrated into devices, etc., that are so much more than the PCs faster CPUs specs. The "smartphone" especially iPhone changes are so much more than the "expected" incremental hardware improvements - they are just beginning to transform our lives. The next iPhone 6 will initially be graded on spec-like numbers, CPU, RAM, screen, etc., because it's easy and journalists, bloggers, and analysts are notoriously lazy, unimaginative, and herd creatures - but the use that might emerge for secure transaction (with or without NFC), integration of devices with a transparent and hidden cloud that just works when doing jobs, health connection, home integration (both with privacy foremost in mind), etc., this is what next generation smart phones will create. Eventually, the press will figure that out as will Apple imitators (or being charitable competitors).

ftl
ftl

This is the typical response whenever a new technology reaches maturity. The reality is that year-to-year the tech doesn't change much, but if you look at it over five years, the change is huge.


Take what we do with PCs and laptops. Their basic form hasn't changed in 30 years for PCs and 20 years for laptops. But what we can do on them today is hugely different than what we did with them back then.


The basic form of a modern smartphone was dictated by the change from a device to communicate via voice to a versatile display for sending and receiving information. That form is dictated by the shape of humans themselves, and that's not going to change from year-to year. Maybe one day we will flexible screens, but will the basic function of a smartphone will remain the same. Change will come gradually, but ten years from now a smartphone will be radically different than what it is today.

cneeck
cneeck

I think an oft overlooked reason for the need to have this conversation is the fact that most cell plans these days have major subsidies built into their pricing. What this means is you are paying for an upgrade even if you don't want/need one. 


This fact really does drive demand for either tech that's worth the upgrade that comes with the heavier monthly bill or a plan that better reflects our slowing demand for the ‘latest’ and ‘greatest’. 


So I think it’s fair to keep asking ‘what’s next?’ because without a good answer the next question needs to be ‘what then?’…

 

J Peters
J Peters

Yet the one phone that is actually different and offers something new, is not mentioned. The BlackBerry Passport.

mknopp
mknopp

WOW!

It always amazes me how spoiled we are as a society when we pratically demand a technological revolution every few years now or it is proof that those dang engineers are just being lazy.

I mean everyone knows that what they do must be incredibly easy. What could be so hard about making foldable screens at incredibly high resolutions and pixel densities in mass market numbers at prices that consumers will buy? Isn't it obvious how to do it? Those dang lazy engineers and their greedy taskmasters, not giving us our new tech revolution TODAY.

I guess I will just go in the corner and pout and complain about how boring my smartphone is. You know the one that has the computing power of a desktop from less than a decade ago on my cellular network that shuttles more bits from place to place then even the riches could afford about a decade ago.

There is a maxim in manufacturing and engineering that is practically a law. You can have it fast, you can have it cheap, or you can have it good quality. Choose two.

J Peters
J Peters

@mknopp  True. But why should I "upgrade" and spend $200 ($600 no contract) on a new phone that doesn't offer anything new? I think that's what many people should consider before dumping money (they probably don't have) on a new cell phone.

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