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Slow Apple sales indicate future of global smartphone legacy

By Barry He | | Updated: 2019-02-15 03:02
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What will be the next big personal tech revolution?

Last month’s weak revenue announcement from Apple may be indicative of the global maturation of the smartphone market, and a cultural shift on how we perceive them. Announcing its first drop in sales revenue in 16 years, Apple was quick to diagnose the ailment as being down to poor iPhone sales in China. Undoubtedly, the figures were a cause for concern for a company which has launched arguably one of the most successful commercial products in history.

In the holiday quarter last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed a drop in company revenue of nearly $9 billion. The discussion as to why such a large drop has occurred has been in full swing, with many analysts blaming trade frictions and slower global economic growth, among other factors.

However, an additional explanation could be a worldwide change in attitude toward our relationship with smartphones in general. It is estimated that up to 52 percent of the world’s population now owns some type of smartphone. This means the maturation of the industry, as well as the reduced novelty value of new devices, may play a part, as consumers cement adoption of the technology into their daily rituals.

That is not to say that smartphones are getting any less ingenious, or that innovation is slowing down – quite the opposite. The latest phones possess 3-D face scanners and AI-assisted apps, to say nothing of the prospect of mainstream high-speed internet 5G handsets being on the horizon this year.

However, as with more established technologies in mature markets such as televisions and dishwashers, extra bells and whistles rarely leave a lasting mark with consumers. This makes them less likely to buy the newest model, especially if the handset in question is released annually to prices peaking at well more than $1000.

Smartphones, like other ground-breaking household technologies before, have reached a stage where they fulfill day to day life satisfactorily for the mainstream population, and most people can get by without reaching into their pockets for a shinier model.

The fact that these amazing devices have had such a universal impact is something to be celebrated, despite the lament of a fall in market penetration from large corporations such as Apple.

The facts that growth has slowed and the market has matured have one strong advantage. Deploying experimental apps and services on immature platforms is risky, (remember the HD DVD vs Blu Ray fiasco of 2006), but doing so on a secure platform is safe. Innovations such as live video streaming and quick efficient finance apps could only have made a solid start in the smartphone market.

However, this leaves the question of where the industry goes next, which is, frankly, a hard question to answer. Perhaps a more important question is what will the industry’s legacy be? Despite the slowing growth of the smartphone market, the foundation has now been set for humanity’s next societal transforming technology to appear.

Our phones have become extensions of our bodies, and for all of their faults help us connect with and navigate through an ever more complex world. The next generation of personal technology is likely to be in the field of wearable devices, whether that be wearable watches or augmented reality vision headsets.

Smartphones are no doubt here to stay for a long time, but on the other hand the industries of the future will have little mercy for dysfunctional devices, ill-equipped for the society of tomorrow. Apple is still drying its tears from a disappointing quarter, wondering how to accessorize the next type of handset to entice consumers. However, wearable technology may very well be the next stage. The huge popularity of Apple’s AirPods, in-ear wearable smart wear headphones released last year, may be indicative of emerging markets yet to be conquered.

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