Is Smartphone Innovation All Tapped Out?

A panel session probing the perennial heads or tails of mobile device commoditization vs mobile device innovation here at MWC 2016 earlier today heard an interesting range of views. Speakers ran the gamut of mobile makers big and small (Samsung, Motorola/Lenovo and Wileyfox), through to chipset maker Qualcomm, alternative open Android flavor Cyanogen, and mobile operator Telefonica.

Each had their own spin on what ‘innovation’ means in the smartphone space now, in the context of mature Western markets — and inevitably aligning with their respective business imperatives. And no one was quite willing to pronounce smartphones too boring to be bought in the sought for quantities to sustain the mobile growth engine. Although there were various takes on what being innovative in smartphone terms means now.

Connected devices extending the capabilities of handsets — and thus acting as an added selling point incentive — are clearly front of mind for some, such as Samsung, which has of course had a tougher time in the hyper competitive smartphone market in recent years.

The idea that both innovation and commoditization are happening simultaneously – with a two-tier smartphone market in play that’s simultaneously delivering increasing value on the one hand, yet still coming up with compelling new bells and whistles at the premium top of the line was also generally accepted.

“On the innovation side when we hear innovation’s gone from the category… we think that’s absolutely wrong,” said Tim McDonough, SVP of marketing at Qualcomm, pointing to flagship announcements this week from Samsung and LG. “Innovation in the handset’s not constrained to the 4.5 inch or 5 inch screen in the device; it’s everything surrounding it, including the ability to capture virtual reality and watch it and share it over wireless with friends and family,” he argued.

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