In 2022, smartphones gave up their wow factor for peace of mind.
The “next big thing” in personal technology can’t be a foldable phone or an immersive augmented reality headset. It might just be learning new techniques to maximize the capabilities of the phones we already have.
Like companies like Apple, Samsungand Google unveiled new strategies to make our phones more useful, reliable and private, that message rang loud and clear in 2022.
This year’s offerings lacked the “wow” factor that defined the smartphone’s first decade in favor of improvements that could improve the longevity and usability of our phones. Some of the improvements include expanded Android OS compatibility for Samsung devices, free new privacy features for new Pixel phone customers, and improved iPhone security measures.
These minor but important changes reveal a lot about the state of the smartphone market. As mobile devices are now more evolved than ever, annual hardware upgrades no longer seem so important.
Technology companies are increasingly relying on the fact that phones seem more necessary in everyday life to keep existing users hooked as it becomes more difficult to captivate customers with innovations. Inflation has reduced demand for new cell phones, making it even harder to promote upgrades, so that’s as important as ever in 2022.
Use your phone as a safety net.
It’s challenging to pinpoint exactly how smartphones will evolve in 2022, as there isn’t a single overarching trend like in the past. For example, it wasn’t the year when mobile phones got fast charging or ultra-wide camera lenses.
Aaron West, a senior analyst at Omdia who focuses on the smartphone business, claims that smartphones have been all about the number of cameras, the size of the cameras, the screen size and the battery performance in the past five to six years. And right now it’s kind of come to a standstill.
But as you dive further, a few recurring patterns become apparent.
The first is peace of mind, which has a slightly different meaning for every brand new major smartphone we saw in 2022. When cellular networks aren’t available, iPhone 14 can automatically identify traffic accidents and connect to emergency services via satellite.
Accident detection has long been enabled by Google’s Pixel phones, but it’s a first for Apple. In addition, it is one of the few features that distinguish the iPhone 14 from the iPhone 13.
Since Samsung will offer up to four generations of Android upgrades, the Galaxy S22 or Galaxy A53 5G doesn’t seem to be out of date anytime soon. That even outlasts Google, which only gives its Pixel phones three years of major Android OS support. Both companies offer five years of security updates, but thanks to Samsung’s extended support, you’ll receive another year of new features for your entire system.
With a free, built-in VPN, Google’s Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro users have the ability to surf the web stealthily. To access that feature, you’ll need to subscribe to Google One on the premium tier, which costs $10 per month. It’s yet another illustration of how Google is using special software perks to differentiate its new Pixel devices from other Android rivals.
The problem, however, is that these features don’t necessarily convince customers to buy a new phone. Speaking of the new security measures on the iPhone 14, Josh Lowitz of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners noted, “Security is an emotional boost.” But it doesn’t affect how you live your daily life.
How vital your phone becomes
In 2022, tech juggernauts have also done their best to make phones seem like a more fundamental aspect of our day-to-day existence. The digital wallets from Apple, Samsung and Google each saw progress. Mobile payments have been around for a while, but in 2022 these companies intensified their efforts to keep government IDs and other necessary information on phones.
To leave home with almost nothing but your phone, the goal is to gradually replace your current wallet. The revelations came at a time when more people were using mobile wallets.
In September 2022, 32% of smartphone owners in countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US reported using a mobile wallet in the previous month, according to Jack Hamlin, a global director of consumer insight at analytics and consulting firm Kantar. That is an increase of 3% compared to last year.
Another strategy used by phone manufacturers to increase the importance of their products is to broaden their goals to make the phone the centerpiece of all the other digital services and gadgets we use. The items we saw in 2022 reinforced the idea that your phone is more than just a phone; it is the entry point to the various apps and gadgets in our lives.
This is not a new trend. In October, for example, Google unveiled the Pixel Watch, the first consumer smartwatch. It may be the boldest move in the search engine giant’s recent history to lure customers into its Pixel world and mimic Apple’s approach.
Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart previously told CNET’s Imad Khan that one of the factors that keeps people hooked on Apple’s ecosystem is the fact that once you buy an Apple Watch, it’s incredibly hard to leave.
That’s just one of the most obvious examples of how digital companies are expanding their own ecosystems. In 2022, Apple expanded services like Apple Fitness Plus and Apple TV Plus by bringing their subscription fitness app to iPhones and announcing plans to stream Major League Soccer games on their streaming TV platform.
Now that it’s harder to sell new phones, creating an ecosystem is more important than ever for tech companies. Not only does it prevent customers from switching to another phone of their choice, but it also gives companies another way to pay dedicated consumers.
iPhone owners can purchase AirPods or the Apple Watch. They can even sign up for Apple Fitness Plus. Galaxy S22 owners may decide to purchase Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 instead of a Fitbit tracker or the Pixel Watch.
It’s harder than ever to convince customers to buy new phones.
It can’t be glossed over: smartphone sales this year seemed dismal. According to International Data Corporation, the global smartphone market contracted for the seventh consecutive quarter in the third quarter of 2022. According to Canalys, the second quarter of 2022 wasn’t much better, with shipments down 9% year over year. Both company reports cite economic challenges and reduced demand as the main causes.
People also use their phones for extended periods of time. According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, in the 12 months leading up to the September 2022 quarter, 29% of buyers kept their previous phone for three years or more.
That’s up from the same quarter a year ago, when that figure was 23%. According to Assurant, an insurance company that also helps companies set up trade-in programs, the average age of devices returned through trade-ins exceeded three and a half years for the first time.
You can also begin to understand why annual phone releases aren’t as exciting as they once were once you realize this. Smartphone makers are also targeting owners of older models, not just customers who upgraded their phones last year or the year before.
It’s appropriate to note that not much has changed between the iPhone 13 and the iPhone 14, according to Hamlin. But if consumers have maintained their iPhone for the past four years, that reflects a customer upgrading from an iPhone 10 to an iPhone 14.
The fact that the phone as we know it will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future is perhaps the biggest lesson from 2022. Yes, smartphones will keep getting faster processors and better cameras. Despite the industry’s efforts to accelerate the adoption of foldable phones, many consumers will continue to use the existing version of the phone for quite some time.
As a result, tech companies may have to put more effort into capturing consumer interest, especially as new features begin to blend in with garish technological advances from previous phone generations.
West thinks modern phones are the right size. “The cameras are as good as they can be. The size of the batteries limits how well they can work, so how else can we use them?”
Edited by Prakriti Arora