Can Smartphones Break Out of Their Rut?
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.