A couple of weekends ago I took delivery of my 18th ever mobile phone – a LG/Google Nexus 5 (you can see the history of the rest here). A couple of weeks later, and in the bubble of noise coming out of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I can only conclude one thing: smartphones are a category that are now just incrementally improving.
The Nexus has 32Gb of memory, a quad-core processor, a 5″ screen, and blah, blah, blah. That’s the thing, you see. It’s all just features and specs these days.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great phone, which runs faster and more reliably than my last (I’d updated my old Galaxy SII to Cyanogenmod, and whilst better than it had been, it crashed at least once a day). But as my fourth Android phone, the differences between it and the last are distinctly less than between the 2nd and 3rd (Galaxy S – Galaxy SII), and marginal in comparison to the 1st and 2nd (an HTC Hero).
Of course, it’s not just about the hardware – it’s all about the apps. But even there, despite (re-)installing dozens of apps on the new device, I can’t think of any mobile-centric apps that I’ve only just started using in the past 12 months.
By the look of it, much of the innovation in the mobile arena now is how to produce cheaper smart devices that can extend the market into emerging economies. In richer economies, it looks like we’ll have to see where wearable tech goes before we’ll see the next wave of step-change innovation. The first iPhone was launched in 2007. In seven years we’ve seen the creation of a new, relatively stable, computing market. Will the next phase take even less time?