Where was I on January 9, 2007? I remember it very precisely: in a hotel room in Las Vegas. I was getting ready to visit the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the biggest tech show on the planet. But in reality, the most important event was taking place 600 kilometers away in San Francisco. “We are going to write history together today,” said Steve Jobs. This time around, the Apple co-founder and director was on target with his rave words. On the stage of the Macworld Expo, the entrepreneur presented the first iPhone.
Apple did not invent the first smartphone, Nokia (with its E62 model), Palm (with its Treo) or even Blackberry having previously laid the foundations of the multifunction telephone. But with its touch screen and its ultra-simple use, the iPhone would force all of Apple’s competitors to follow it, the phone perfectly suited to the needs of consumers who want to have the internet in their pocket.
As innovative as it was, the first iPhone nevertheless showed shortcomings which, seen from 2022, seem prohibitive: no GPS, no possibility of recording videos, no sending of photos by SMS, no front camera, no copy and paste function, no application store, no biometric system to unlock it… The list is long and shows how much the iPhone, but also all competing smartphones, then rapidly evolved. But in recent years, innovation seems to have come to a standstill and the telephone market seems to be cut into two worlds, those of Apple and Google, from which only devices that all look alike have emerged.
But this inertia is only apparent. With very small touches, smartphones continue to progress, but in a less spectacular way than in the past.
Let’s talk about the form already. Little by little, foldable telephones appear. The world number one Samsung, but also its Chinese competitors Huawei and OPPO, to name a few, are launching several devices all folding in different ways. And prices are falling: from 2000 francs when they started, they are now approaching 1000 francs. But these phones currently represent almost nothing: around 10 million foldable models were sold in 2021, compared to the billion phones sold. And above all, apart from their compactness, foldable telephones do not currently provide any clear added value.
Progress on the battery side
On the loading side, progress is becoming more and more clear. Not long ago, hardly any smartphone offered a day’s battery life. Now this has almost become the norm, especially thanks to larger batteries. At the same time, more and more models can be loaded to 50% in half an hour. And Samsung allows for example to charge a phone from another by simply juxtaposing the two devices.
Fleas are also evolving. And they allow, among other things, the expansion of a new radio transmission standard, the Ultra Wide Band (UWB). It makes several things possible: the precise location, to the nearest centimeter, of surrounding devices, but also data transmission and access control. We have seen Apple use the UWB to locate its small AirTag beacons. And its competitors should multiply the applications in the coming months, for example to unlock your car.
Finally, innovations will mainly continue at the software level. You can already see it when you take a photo: sophisticated algorithms ensure immediate processing of the images in a relevant way. Helped by 5G and by more powerful processors, augmented reality services, but also virtual reality, will gradually develop. We have been talking about such services for a while now, especially for games. They should multiply and there is no doubt that Facebook will soon want to use the computing power of smartphones, connected to virtual reality headsets, to make us dive into its “metaverse”.
Innovation does not stop and will therefore continue especially in the field of services, in connection with the cloud. Apple, which likes to carefully follow its often bolder competitors, will continue to play a major role with its next iPhones, it is obvious.