Latest smartphone ‘innovation’ exposes an industry running out of steam

Curved Display Analysis

I guess you can argue that some consumers need the 41-megapixel camera that Nokia introduced a few months ago. But the number of people who care about that is a sliver of the overall market. Things get even murkier with the Samsung Galaxy Round and its curved display. Technically, this feature does have marginal utility. When you rock the phone as it lies on its convex side, you can glimpse messages on the display if you happen to be looking at it sideways. This is pretty much the definition of “grasping at straws” when it comes to feature innovation.

And next we’ll get the Samsung smartphone with a wraparound display that shows different information on different portions of the screen. So if you happen to be looking at the phone from the side and don’t feel like picking it up — or rocking it gently — you can see vital info like whether you have a new WhatsApp message. This is particularly important if you are sitting on the floor with your eye level slightly above the table surface.

The phone industry is getting a bit sad and depressing. Not to mention desperate. The average selling price of smartphones around the globe has been plunging this year and Qualcomm just warned a few weeks ago about a decline in high-end phone demand. The industry is facing a real threat of stagnant luxury smartphone sales and the only genuine promise on the horizon is flexible display tech that will one day enable phone screens that roll up like salamander tongues.

That is pretty exciting. But before we get there, we will have to wade through an agonizing valley of an innovation drought. In 2014, that means even more baroque camera modules, phones shaped like salsa chips and models with 9-millimeter wide side displays. The volume outlook for the $600-plus price category could get nasty indeed in the coming year.

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