The Smartphone Is Dead

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This year has been a big bummer for gadget nerds hoping the next big thing would arrive soon.

It hasn't.

That's not to say there haven't been some great new devices. There have been plenty: The HTC One. The BlackBerry Z10. The Samsung Galaxy S4. The Moto X. They're all really good phones, and you'd probably be happy buying any of them.

But despite all the marketing hype surrounding each phone, despite all the glitzy events, despite the months of executives openly teasing their next product, none of the devices launched this year have been the revolution they claimed to be. They're all on parity with each other. Apple may have leapfrogged the competition with the introduction of the first iPhone in 2007, but since then, everyone else has caught up.

For most people, all of these devices do pretty much the same things. They let you run apps, browse the Web, watch video, check your email, and play endless rounds of Candy Crush. It doesn't matter how much you paid or what kind of special features your phone's manufacturer touts. It's all the same these days. The concept of a "smartphone" is dead.

As someone who watches the mobile industry so closely, it's frustrating to see companies still try to do for phones what Apple did six years ago. It's almost gotten absurd.

Last week, LG introduced its new flagship phone called the G2. Its distinguishing feature? The volume controls are on the back of the device, right below the camera.

Nokia introduced a phone last month called the Lumia 1020 that had a 41 megapixel camera, an over-the-top feature that most people will never need, let alone care to spend an extra $100 for.

Samsung was probably the worst offender with its Galaxy S4 phone. It packed in so many useless gimmicks like touchless gestures and eye tracking that it actually made the device more complex and frustrating to use, not better. 

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Simply put, the "wow" factor in today's smartphones doesn't exist. They're all just ... phones. It's going to take more than a handful of gimmicks to convince the public that a new era in mobile computing has arrived.

Meanwhile, it's worth taking a look at the overall smartphone market. The high-end of the market is nearing saturation, meaning just about everyone who wants a new top-tier device like the iPhone 5 or HTC One already has one. It'll be nearly impossible for another player to come in and whisk away the market share Apple and Samsung have already scooped up.

That's why we're seeing some companies like Nokia making bigger bets on the low-end of the smartphone market by producing phones that only cost a few hundred dollars (without a contract from your carrier), yet still offer the full suite of features in Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system. It's also why Apple will reportedly release a low-cost iPhone later this year and why Samsung churns out several cheaper variants of its Galaxy phones.

To be clear: I'm not saying people are going to stop buying phones. (They won't.) I'm not saying the phones companies release are bad. (They're not.) I'm saying we've reached the point where all devices are pretty much the same, and it's silly for them to try and differentiate themselves with useless gimmicks. 

Mobile devices aren't going away, but the concept of a "smartphone" is dead.



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