It is that time of the year when you do a bit of stocktaking. In the world of technology, especially in a mobile-first market like India, the stocktaking is primarily about how the smartphone industry progressed. As far as progress goes, 2015 has been a path-breaking year, so intense that it is tough to remember where it started. Here are the biggest trends that I noted in the segment this year.
Only smartphones: This was the year in which sales across the world started favouring smartphones and the feature phone segment started shrinking. This also meant mobile phone users were moving more towards data-driven services from voice across the board, and not just in the upper deck. The growth of the mobile Internet in India is the biggest testament to this. Handling IndianExpress.com, I know that we now have more readers on mobile than from the shrinking desktop space.
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Why pay more: While smartphone makers have for long been talking about the $100 smartphone, the biggest impact of this push seems to have been in the price bracket just above it. Now the smartphones under $200 are so good that anything priced more than that is finding it difficult to survive. If people are spending more on a smartphone — above Rs 40,000 in the Indian context — that is primarily to show that you don’t want to be hyphenated with the rest of the crowd who prefer to buy an affordable Android smartphone.
Better everything: So as the affordable smartphone becomes better, we see them sporting specifications that would put flagships to shame. Phones like the OnePlus 2, Qiku Q Terra, Lenovo Vibe P1 and Moto X Play all push the limits of what a $200 phone can offer. And because of this, the bottom rung of phones are now seeing a 1.3GHz quad-processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage and a 13MP rear and 5MP front camera as a standard feature set.
Finally some power: For most of the year, as smartphones improved on all aspects, they still continued to struggle with the battery. With improved features, the power consumption only increased leading to better sales of power banks. However, in the last quarter of 2015 we have seen phones like the Lenovo Vibe P1 and Gionee Marathon M5 that bring larger batteries to smaller chassis, thus plugging the biggest pain point of the smartphone user. Even Apple seemed to get things right with the iPhone 6s Plus giving a battery that lasted the whole day under normal conditions.
Going 4G: India finally saw the big push towards 4G with top players like Airtel rolling out the new service across most locations. For now, the effort seems to be to get users to the new service and free up some bandwidth for the 3G users. Everyone will be waiting to see how the much-anticipated Reliance Jio services changes the game in India, when it is finally launched. For now, the experience is that 4G services are faster but also much more costlier than its 3G predecessor.
Power apps: In India, the growth of mobile is to a great extent due to the urge to get on the Internet, which for many is limited to services like Facebook and WhatsApp, resulting in an unprecedented growth of some of these services. No wonder, a Facebook now has ambitions to pretty much be the Internet, offering almost everything the world wide web does. Also, you will see the larger messenger platform look at other services in the coming year hoping to cash in on their own dedicated user base. So, 2016 could be the year in which the messenger becomes the medium.