May 13

Have smartphones (including the iPhone 4S and Samsung SIII) become too clever and passed their peak? Good news for enterprises.

Samsung recently launched its Galaxy SIII smartphone, the latest update of its hyperbolically successful Galaxy Series. In the Fall of 2011 Apple did the same with its iPhone 4S, displacing the equally successful iPhone 4.  But step back: what changed? Not a lot.  This suggests that the pinnacle of smartphone function/relevance/capability matrix may now have passed and that the perhaps inevitable wars to differentiate through function variety (rather than customer needs) has begun, with practical utility suffering as ever more barely necessary features are added in order to try to sustain differentiation.

If this seems ridiculous, ask yourself what the latest SIII brought.  One analysis listed the features (besides the 4-way processor and a mildly bigger screen) as including Pop-Up Play (a sort-of or pretend parallel processing), Smart Stay, Social Tagging/Buddy Share, Best Photo, S Beam (enabling similar devices to communicate with NFC), Apt-X enhanced Bluetooth stereo (improved music quality), S Voice (voice response), Audience es305 voice-processing (better quality calls) and ICS (at last a supposedly decent version of the Android OS).  This is not that impressive, especially when you think 1) what the SII brought over the SI  and 2) what the SII till delivers, especially if you:

  • install Ice Cream Sandwich (coming slowly from Samsung
  • buy apps from the markets on the Internet to provide many (but not all) of the same functions (like Pop-Up Play, Smart Stay, etc.).

Now revisit the iPhone 4S.  What was different with it?  Apart from Siri (the voice response capability), the answer is again: not a lot.

Impartial analysis suggests that SII and the iPhone 4 attained the function/relevance/capability high point.  Both provided significant improvements on their predecessors (especially in screen resolution and processing power). But that subsequent scale of improvement has not continued into the latest generation.  Indeed, taking this further, why should one buy either an SIII or an iPhone 4S?  There really is not a lot of capability difference for the much increased price.

This has major implications, for the smartphone market, for consumers and for enterprises:

  • for the smartphone market it suggests that further increases in computing power for smartphones are likely to be for most people an irrelevance; therefore expect device vendors to focus differentiation on fripperies and other details that do not greatly enhance the device (expect more diamond covers and the like)
  • for consumers (including those in working in enterprises) it means that a ‘prior generation’ smartphone will likely be well more than adequate, and cost much less (the one fly in the ointment here is that the device manufacturers may try to remove such devices from production, or cripple storage or take similar steps)
  • for enterprises the news is almost certainly all good: employees will purchase BYOD smartphones that are proven, known-about and understood; this hugely simplifies support.

Of course, Apple and/or Samsung may introduce some exceptional capability that will prove that the pinnacle had not been reached with the SII and iPhone 4S.  That, however, does seem increasingly unlikely.  Add in the continuing growing importance of tablets as more practical consumption (and even computing devices) and the idea that smartphones will return to be used primarily as phones looks ever more plausible (with a possible specialty market for stupid-smartphones — see http://www.constellationrg.com/blog/2012/04/snatch-and-grab-iphone-theft…).

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