Smartphone sales contracting: A bar set too high

In China, smartphone sales contracted by 4%. Jack Wallen believes this to be caused by manufacturer's setting the hardware bar higher and higher.

China is one of the largest markets on the plane t-- especially for technology. In fact, China has this insatiable love for all things smartphones. But recently something strange has happened. Last year sales of smartphones in China shrunk by 4%. How could this be happening in a country obsessed by having the best and newest technology available?

Simple -- they have it. It is believed that the majority of Chinese consumers have smartphones. This "belief" can also be applied to nearly all major markets. But the vast number of Chinese consumers make this particular market special. And now, because of the saturation of devices, the Chinese will only purchase new devices when, gasp, they need one.

Need. That one word could become the bane of smartphone manufacturers. But it's an idea that has been brewing for a very long time. Think about it this way: When a juggernaut like Samsung releases a device like the Galaxy S6--a device that outperforms every device in nearly every category--that manufacturer builds in more longevity to consumers connection to a device than expected. That's right, we are experiencing a period where technology is exceeding our demands, needs, and expectations. As a whole, consumers of mobile devices don't long for feature X or Y because they have it.

The next big thing is here, in our hands. The idea that the next next big thing is almost inconceivable. How can Samsung improve on the S6? How can Google improve on the Nexus 6? What about Motorola and the Droid Turbo or Apple's iPhone? It's getting harder and harder for consumers, pundits, and the media to imagine anything better than what we have. In fact the ownness now falls on Google and Apple to improve the platform running the hardware. This, of course, could land us in a similar situation we found ourselves in during the '90s.


Imagine if Samsung and Google meet secretly and determine the only way to drive sales of hardware is to create a newer and better platform that requires newer and better hardware? People are going to want Android X because it has features 1, 2, and 3. However, Android X only runs on the Samsung Z!

It's a scenario that should put a bad taste in your mouth. But think about it: Samsung has already gone through a major sales drought during the Galaxy S4/5 devices. They managed to right the ship (in a major way) with the S6. But improving on that is going to be a serious challenge. How can Samsung force the hand of consumes and make them now buy the next next next next big thing? As hardware continues to improve at its current rate, the likelihood that manufacturers will find themselves facing seriously contracting sales shifts from possible to probable.

Each major company (Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, HTC, Lenovo, Motorola) are shipping massive amounts of devices. Each of these manufacturers will go through periods of expansion and contraction with sales. But at some point, will we see a sort of singularity where all manufacturers undergo contraction simply because consumers are satisfied? I don't believe this to be beyond the realm of the possible.

Yes, there will always be those that must have the newest, shiniest device -- but that portion of consumers is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the majority.

Consider this: My wife recently purchased the Samsung Galaxy S6. The camera on that smartphone overshadows my Canon DSLR. Yes, the Canon has a few features that I require for photographs, but what the newest Galaxy does is take better pictures than my Canon and does so with more reliably. How could Samsung possibly improve on a camera that bests nearly every smartphone camera on the market and some cameras designed for professional photography? That is an undertaking I would not like to have on my plate.

As well, one would have to consider the screen. The S6 screen is brilliant -- far superior than any device I have in my possession (even the Nexus 6). How can they improve on that? The only way I can imagine would be to make better use of the curved edges. But again, that falls onto the software side of things.

For the first time, since I've been a consumer of smartphone technology, I can honestly say that manufacturers have raised the bar so high, I cannot imagine them resetting it. Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola have flagship devices that are wonders of design and execution. If China's market is any indication, we're going to see more and more contraction of sales in the coming years.

Is that a bad? For manufacturers, yes. But what about consumers? Has the bar already been set too high by flagship devices?

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....