The ‘next big thing’ in personal technology may not be immersiveor a phone that folds in half. It could just be finding new ways to get more out of the phones we already use.
This message resonated clearly throughout 2022, as companies likeand introduces new ways to make our phones more convenient, reliable and private. This year’s offerings lacked the wow factor that defined the smartphone’s first decade, instead including upgrades that could extend the life of our phones and make them more useful. Among the changes: longer software support for Samsung devices, new free privacy features for new Pixel phone owners, and better security features for iPhone.
These subtle but noticeable changes speak volumes about the state of the smartphone industry. Mobile devices have matured to the point that yearly hardware upgrades no longer seem as monumental as they once did. As it becomes harder to impress consumers with new technologies, tech giants are increasingly keeping existing users hooked by making phones more essential in everyday life. This is more important than ever in 2022, as inflation hasmaking it even harder to drive upgrades.
Your phone as a safety net
It’s difficult to define precisely how smartphones have evolved in 2022, as there is no common overriding theme like there has been in recent years. It wasn’t, for example, the year when smartphones had ultra-wide camera lenses or fast-charging capabilities.
“Smartphones over the last five, six years or so – it was all about the number of cameras, the size of the cameras, the screen size, battery improvements,” said Aaron West, senior analyst covering the smartphone industry at Omdia. “And now it’s kind of capped.”
But a few common themes become apparent once you dig below the surface.
The first is peace of mind, and that phrase means something a little different for every major new smartphone we’ve seen in 2022. For theit is the ability to and log in to when cellular networks are not available. Google’s Pixel phones have supported crash detection for years, but this is a first for Apple. It is also one of the few characteristics that separates the .
For Samsung, it’s knowing that yourWhere won’t feel outdated anytime soon, as it will receive up to four generations of Android version updates. That even surpasses Google, which only provides three years of major Android OS support for its Pixel phones. Both companies provide five years of security updates, but Samsung’s extended support means you’ll get new system-wide features for another year.
Forand it means having the ability to browse the web more privately with . Otherwise, you would have to pay $10 per month under the premium tier of the subscription service to get this feature. It’s another example of how Google is using proprietary software advantages to set its new Pixel devices apart from other Android competitors.
The problem, however, is that features like these don’t always compel people to buy a new phone.
“Security is an emotional upgrade,” said Josh Lowitz of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners in reference to the iPhone 14’s new security features. “But it doesn’t change your day-to-day life.”
How your phone becomes more important
Tech giants have also been trying to make phones a more essential part of our daily lives in 2022. Most notably, Apple, Samsung and Google have each made improvements to their digital wallets. Mobile payments have been around on phones for years, but these companies have stepped up to store the governmenton phones in 2022.
The goal is to ensure that you can leave your house with almost nothing but your phone as it gradually replaces your physical wallet. The announcements came as mobile wallet adoption increases. In September 2022, 32% of smartphone owners in regions such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States said they had used a mobile wallet in the past month, according to Jack Hamlin , global director of consumer insights at Kantar, a data and consulting company. This is a 3% increase over the previous year.
Phone makers have also expanded their ambitions to cement the phone as the center of the other services and digital devices we use – another way to make them more critical. It’s not a new trend, but the products we’ve seen in 2022 have underscored the idea that your phone isn’t just a phone, it’s the gateway to the other apps and gadgets in our lives. Google, for example, launched its first consumer smartwatch, called, in October. It may be the search giant’s biggest bet in years to lure buyers into its Pixel landscape, replicating Apple’s strategy.
“One of the things that keeps people locked into the Apple ecosystem is that once you’ve bought an Apple Watch, it’s really hard to leave,” said tech analyst Avi Greengart.to CNET’s Imad Khan regarding the launch of the Pixel Watch.
This is just one of the most striking examples of how tech companies are expanding their respective ecosystems. Apple has extended its services asand Apple TV Plus in 2022 by bringing its workout subscription app to iPhones and announcing plans to on its TV streaming platform.
Building an ecosystem is more important than ever for tech companies now that it’s become harder to sell new phones. Not only does this keep current users locked into their phone of choice, but it also gives businesses another way to monetize those enthusiasts. iPhone owners can become Apple Watch or AirPods customers. They can even subscribe to Apple Fitness Plus. Galaxy S22 owners could opt forrather than a Fitbit tracker or the Pixel Watch.
It’s harder than ever to convince people to buy new phones
There’s no way to water it down: Smartphone sales looked bleak this year. In the third quarter of 2022, the global smartphone industry suffered its fifth consecutive decline, according to International Data Corporation. The second quarter of 2022 was no better; Canalys reports that shipments fell 9% year over year. Reports from both companies cite economic challenges and weakening demand as contributing factors.
At the same time, people are keeping their phones longer. In the 12 months ending with the September 2022 quarter, 29% of buyers had had their old phone for three years or more, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. That’s up from the same quarter a year ago, when that number was 23%. The average age of devices turned in through trade-ins also crossed three-and-a-half years for the first time, according to Assurant, an insurance provider that also helps businesses develop trade-in programs.
With that in mind, you can also begin to see why annual phone releases aren’t as exciting as they used to be. Phone makers aren’t just catering to buyers who updated their phone last year or the year before; they target former phone owners.
“It’s fine to compare an iPhone 13 to an iPhone 14 and say there’s very little development,” Hamlin said. “But with consumers sticking with their devices for four years now, it’s a consumer moving from an iPhone 10 to an iPhone 14.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson of 2022 is that the phone as we know it is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Yes, phones will continue to have faster processors and more advanced cameras. But the current iteration of the phone that exists today is one that many people will be using for a long time, despite industry efforts to accelerate the adoption of foldable phones.
That’s why tech companies may have to work harder to keep consumers intrigued, especially as new features become less noticeable than the flashy hardware leaps found in previous phone generations.
“The phones are now the right size,” West said. “The cameras are as good as it gets. The batteries are about as good as the size will allow. So what else can we do with them?”
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