Smartphone market was more dynamic than ever this year, and we saw some interesting developments which affect each of us and pave way for what is coming. We won’t be talking about what phones debuted this year and how they rank, because in a pool of imperfect smartphones, that makes lesser sense each passing day. Let’s list some influential evolutionary changes that matter. (We take global factors into account, but the peice is more Indian-market-centric)
Apple takes 95% of mobile profits
A recent study pointed out that Apple raked in 95 percent of the smartphone profit in Q3 2015, which is astonishingly high, especially considering that the company governs only 15 percent of the market by volume.
This leaves numerous other Android vendors fighting aggressively for a much smaller piece of pie. In the short-run, Android consumers need not worry as this only means better products at cheapest possible prices.
But OEMs struggling to make a decent profit is something Android OEMs and Google need to be gravely concerned about. 2015 sets the stage, and 2016 could be the year where some renowned low-key OEMs might pull their shutter down.
Focus shift from Specs to Design
This was more of a gradual change, which we elaborately pondered upon a few days back. More than the rest, 2015 marks the year where manufactures shift their focus to design. We have seen more metal than a steel-arch bridge floating in mid and budget range segment this year.
Manufacturers are keen to add that metallic touch, no matter how minuscule or irrelevant, to bag the rights to associate ‘premium’ with their product. Design first phones like OnePlus X, Lenovo Vibe S1, Samsung Galaxy S6 series overhaul and numerous others exemplify this change.
Fingerprint Sensor becomes mainstream
Apple iPhone 5s was the first phone to debut with Fingerprint security and that was way back in 2013. 2014 saw many Android OEMs following suit with some horrible fingerprint scanners, and 2015 is where Android vendors master the art. We even saw the feature trickle down to under 10,000 INR phones.
Now that Google has provided a standard fingerprint sensor API in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, we expect an even more aggressive adoption in the coming year. Now let’s see if 3D Touch follows the same adoption trajectory.
Android cameras come of age
This is a significant area where Android OEMs have progressed by leaps and bounds this year. In fact DxOMark puts 9 Android flagships ahead of iPhone 6s in its evaluation. Samsung Galaxy S6 surprised us with its remarkable camera performance, which was soon matched by LG G4. Be it Nexus Phones launched this year or the budget Motorola G series, Camera performance has significantly improved all around.
Windows 10 and Continuum
Windows 10 was very well received and is likely to be the success Microsoft was hoping for. The core mantra this time is to get it on as many devices as possible. Microsoft expressed its disinterest in manufacturing devices at aggressive pace, but still launched Lumia 950 and 950XL to explain the potential of Windows on a phone.
The standout feature is Continuum. This allows you to turn any display into a full-fledged Windows PC, using a Microsoft display dock. You can also attach mouse and keyboard and get going with your MS Office apps on any large display. You won’t have to carry your PC around. You can also simultaneously use your phone for something else! If Microsoft manages to convince people that this is something they need to aspire for, Windows phone will still have a purpose. If not, Micosoft might have to pull the plug on this whole damn thing.
64-Bit Mess and 4G LTE
Android transitioned to 64 bit world haphazardly, simply because Apple did too, but as we approach the end of 2015, the transition finally has a purpose – Full device encryption (mandatory on marshmallow) won’t heavily tax device performance.
64-Bit wasn’t meaningless to begin with. With 64-Bit, world jumps from age old ARMv7 to updated and improved ARMv8. Now with encryption being mandatory in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, cryptography extensions in ARMv8 will be extremely helpful. The Nexus 6P and 5X make use of the ARMv8 instruction set and Dave Burk, VP of Engineering at Google, claims it is even faster than AES hardware encryption.
Since all new 64-Bit Chips support 4G LTE, we have also witnessed massive boom in 4G LTE compatible smartphone hardware even with only 1 service provider.
Apart from fingerprint sensors, ‘Heating Issues’ have also gone mainstream this year. If memory serves me right, it started with Xiaomi Mi3’s advent last year, when consumers were treated to an extraordinary ‘Value For Money’ phone out of the blue, but with one flaw- it got hot rather easily. In 2015, “Does it have heating issues” has become a generic user query as plain as someone inquiring about camera or display quality.
Most 2015 phones were plagued with heating issues, but as we approach 2016, most manufacturers have worked measures to resolve this problem. We have seen liquid cooling in phones like Lumia 950, OnePlus 2 using a thermal gel to counteract heat and software fixes, for instance, in Xiaomi Mi4i which can potentially resolve the issue.
Make In India
Government pushing Make in India campaign is finally showing results, at least in smartphone domain. Manufacturers have started assembling low-cost phones in India. In the long run this shall result in better after sales support, but the initiative is still in its nascent stages.
So that is what we think stood-out in 2015, apart from what was obvious before the start of the year, like intrusion of Flash Sales, Fitness and other wearable gadgets and Chinese manufacturers.