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We've officially reached peak smartphone, but real innovation is still within reach

Florence Ion | Feb. 2, 2016
As the pace of hardware innovation slows to a crawl, manufacturers must turn to real-world problem-solving to get consumers excited again.

Samsung’s smartphone problem can be summed up by a single phrase slipped into last year’s fourth quarter earnings statement: “softening demand.” People just aren’t buying as many smartphones as they used to, and in 2016 they’ll be less inclined to immediately upgrade once a new model is announced.

This isn’t just a Samsung problem. Apple is also feeling the pressure—in his earnings call last week, Tim Cook downplayed the fact that iPhone sales are expected to decline in the forthcoming quarter. It looks like this is going to be a popular theme expressed by other smartphone manufacturers throughout the year.

So why are device manufacturers expecting a slowdown in new phone purchases, and what can they do to reverse the tide? How can Samsung and all the other manufacturers get users excited about purchasing another high-end phone? 

The best is already here

Let’s be clear: Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are two of the best smartphones ever. They’re a genius combination of modern design, solid camera functionality, and exclusive treats like Samsung Pay, which you can use to buy stuff almost anywhere you shop.

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Florence Ion Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is such a good phone, you may not feel like even looking at the upcoming Galaxy S7.

The upshot is there might be no reason to upgrade if the Galaxy S6 is already your daily driver. Indeed, if the latest Galaxy S7 rumors are to be believed, the most noteworthy improvements will be a bump in battery size and 3D Touch-like features. Neither update screams “I have to have this!”

The same goes for LG, Motorola, and even quiet little Sony: These manufacturers have already put their best foot forward with their current devices. You can go to LG for a stellar camera experience. You can go to Motorola for the best value. And you can go to Sony if you’re curious about experiencing something totally offbeat, like a 4K display on a 5.5-inch screen.

So how much more can these companies iterate if they’ve already delivered so much? Marginal improvements in core hardware performance and a shinier chassis isn’t enough incentive for someone to dump a perfectly good phone and buy a new one.

You probably don’t even need a flagship

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Florence Ion The Moto X Pure Edition offers so much for so much less than its competitors.

A stellar selection of budget phones is also siphoning attention away from the manufacturer flagships—and this can certainly hurt sales of the high-margin phones that generate the most buzz. In 2016, you don’t have to fork over hundreds of dollars for a phone to get you through the year. Now you can nab something wonderful from Motorola for a mere $400 unlocked: The Moto X Pure Edition offers stellar camera performance, a durable chassis, and frequent Android software updates. That’s a steal compared to what you’d get at your carrier store for Samsung’s latest flagship, even with a subsidy.

 

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