Tech giants Apple and Samsung are alarmed: Smartphone sales have slowed. Some analysts believe everyone who can afford one has one. With no exciting innovations to entice users to upgrade . . . is the smartphone industry past its prime?
Demand for smartphones is waning. Revenue is down. Gone are the early 2010s, when improvements in screen size, resolution, battery life, cameras, and speed burst on the scene every year.
Humans are drawn to possessions—things that can quickly become the “pride of life” spoken of in 1 John 2:16. We desire bigger-faster-cooler and are often driven to preorder and stand in line for the latest and greatest. Yet God says wise people don’t hoard possessions on Earth—where rust destroys, thieves steal, (Matthew 6:19) and screens break when dropped on the sidewalk.
Innovation began to slow down around 2014 after Apple put larger screens on some iPhone models. The phones kept improving, but new features tended to be small, almost unnoticeable—such as a different flash technique. The changes involved upgrades consumers don’t usually notice—or want to pay for.
One of Apple’s biggest problems is plummeting sales in China. The $1,100 iPhone XS Max is a tough sell to Chinese consumers. Plus, they can choose from a slew of cheaper smartphones from homegrown competitors such as Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo.
Samsung, long the leading seller of smartphones, has been hit even harder. Its Galaxy Note 9 costs $1,000.
“They’re getting more and more expensive while offering fewer and fewer new, innovative features that I’ll actually use,” says Zachary Pardes of his iPhone. “I’ll upgrade when the battery stops working.”
Three years ago, Apple customers changed phones every 24-25 months. Now users wait about 33 months to trade up. Tech analyst Dan Ives calls Apple’s flagging sales a “wakeup call for the industry.”
So what’s the solution to lackluster smartphone sales? Foldable screens that unbend like a wallet—a pet Samsung project—might spur excitement. But the phones will be expensive and probably won’t emerge until the end of 2019.
5G, the next-generation network, might prompt growth. But 5G will take years to roll out fully.
Analysts say pushing into underserved areas like Africa and selling more services—such as cloud storage, streaming music, and phone software—might help boost sales. But the glory days of wild growth appear to be over.
Vivian Yang, manager at a Beijing tech company, sums up many people’s thoughts. She balks at the price of today’s not-so-groundbreaking smartphone offerings and says, “Nobody needs such a phone.”