What Mobile Users Want

Epic Win Rage Face

So I’m still sitting on a small pile of really good links that I bookmarked while I was away. Today I’m going to highlight three of those links, wrapping them into my own premise: the growing schism between where the smartphone industry is going and what customers really want.

Ok, that’s a massive oversimplification—mobile users are, of course, well-served by some manufacturers, less so by others. Though now a mature industry there’s lots of innovation to be had in smartphones, just maybe not where you might think. Have a read and see if you agree.

Smartwatches? Not so much.

Two weeks ago a thoughtful piece was posted on the XDA blog, about the slow adoption of Android Wear—and, I think, smartwatches in general. I think what the author says about the Pebble applies to any current wearable:

The Pebble wouldn’t penetrate the mainstream market despite all the functionality it offered. Perhaps it was the cumbersome controls, the unattractive carcass or the fact that many people didn’t – and still don’t – see a valid reason to justify spending over a hundred dollars on something that allows you to do what you can already do on your phone.

Yeah, the price… As convenient as notifications on your wrist can be it hardly justifies the $200 price tag of your typical smartwatch. For someone like me who hasn’t worn a watch in years, notifications aren’t enough to make me start. And for someone who wears a watch I imagine what’s already on their wrist is a lot more attractive than any of the wearables currently on the market.

The most damning statement I’ve heard to date about Android Wear is that notifications need to be offloaded onto your wrist because phones are getting too cumbersome to interact with. Can’t say I disagree.

Thin phones? Think again.

In their debrief of this year’s CES, NPR guest Alan Murray dropped this bombshell: Forget Wearable Tech. People Really Want Better Batteries:

Even in this high-tech wonderland, he says, there were “an awful lot of people running around trying to find power strips so they could plug in their smartphones that had run out of battery juice.”

Despite consumer interest, Murray says, there wasn’t a great deal of buzz about batteries at CES. But, he says, many in the tech industry are awaiting a breakthrough in battery technology.

“This is a problem waiting to be solved,” Murray says. “And I didn’t get any sense in my three days at the Consumer Electronics Show that the solution is about to happen.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across the sentiment that users would gladly take a slightly thicker device with a bigger battery than something like, say, the Oppo R5—a smartphone so thin that it doesn’t even have a headphone jack…?

Expensive subsidized hardware? Only in the West.

I’m not going to knock anyone’s choice to get an $800 Note 4 or a $1000 iPhone 6 Plus, but I do believe that the next big wave of smartphone innovation is going to be about price. That is to say, I agree with former Nokian Tomi Ahonen:

The $10 iPhone

That’s a slide from a 2010 presentation, and in this early 2015 follow-up he talks about a handset for the Indian market that’s retailing for the equivalent of $72 USD. I’m fairly certain that it’s unlocked.

As we all know, there is an increasing number of cheap, unlocked and actually good Android handsets available in North America, including (but not limited to) the likes of the OnePlus One and Moto G. This segment of the market is the one that I’m most excited about. How about you?