The State of Mobile Technology

Ben Bajarin is the director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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Asus chairman Jonney Shih presents the new Asus Padfone during a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 27, 2012.

The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Barcelona, Spain is a great place to get a glimpse of the state of mobile technology. This year was no exception, and a few things caught my eye.

The first thing I noticed this year over previous years was how much Mobile World Congress is becoming a smart device-centric show. In years past, this show was more of a network show, meaning you went to see what was new in network infrastructure. Last year and much more so this year, the show has become more about smart devices than about networks.

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This is a sign of the times. Smartphones are being adopted at incredible rates in developed worlds and even in many developing countries as well. In fact, recent data shows that for the first time, smartphone ownership is higher than feature phone ownership in the U.S.

Smartphones are on an upward trajectory all over the world, and that became clear at Mobile World Congress. Many new smartphones and tablets were announced at this year’s show and I expect that will be the case each year from now on. In fact, MWC is turning out to be the epicenter for launching new smartphones. Aside from the show turning more smart device-centric, there were a couple other trends that stuck out.

Clear Android Differentiation

After seeing many of the new Android device announcements from the leaders like Samsung and HTC, it is clear they are fully marching down the path of strategically differentiating from the pack. I believe this is a good thing altogether.

Samsung, with its Galaxy Note line of products, for example, is taking a stab at differentiating its device experience by pairing it with a companion pen. HTC did something similar with the Flyer, but seems to have abandoned that path for now. For Samsung, however, including the pen as an accessory (which is where it belongs) has opened the door to bundling exclusive and proprietary software in order to enhance the pen experience. Samsung is shipping Adobe’s touch suite of products like Photoshop and Ideas with the Galaxy Note phone and the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.

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Samsung is also including its own S Note application for note-taking and other useful pen experiences. Samsung is wisely using this strategy as a key differentiator, and you will see the company’s marketing is fully committed to this direction. And HTC has furthered its differentiation strategy even more with the new Sense 4.0 user interface.

Beyond Samsung, pen accessories at large seem to be a trend around Android tablets. LG launched the Optimus VU with a pen accessory, and I expect pen accessories to continue to be used as differentiators for the time being. Whether or not these vendors are nailing what it takes to differentiate their products from the Android sea of sameness is debatable.  What is positive from my perspective is that they’re at least focusing on specific differentiators in an attempt to add value to their lineup of devices.

Tablets Are Being Taken Seriously

If you think about it, the tablet category is very young. Many people thought they were a fad.  Others thought they would only be pure consumption devices. What’s happening, however, is that consumers — those who really hold the power in this industry — are teaching people that they are very open-minded about tablets. People are using these devices in ways that many of my colleagues in this industry never thought they would.

One of the reasons for tablets being used in such a variety of ways is their versatility, which is enabled by dual- and quad-core processors. This year, most — if not all – top-selling tablets will be quad-core, including, most likely, Apple’s new iPad 3. When you get quality software paired with good processing power, the possibilities are endless.

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Aside from tablets’ use cases surprising many, so is the rate of growth for this sector. In fact, the data tells us that it took 12 years to reach 50 million laptops, seven years to get to 50 million smartphones, but only two years to reach 50 million tablets. If nothing else, this validates that tablets have a significant role to play in this industry and, more importantly, in consumers’ lives.

After coming away from this years Mobile World Congress, it’s clear that the era of smart devices is upon us. Consumers all over the world are now integrating computing devices of all shapes and sizes into their lives. What we call the Post PC era is a more accurate description of the current era of personal computing, mainly because devices like tablets and smartphones are actually more like personal computers in the purest definition than a clamshell notebook or desktop ever will be. Computing is coming to the masses via waves of new smart devices. We are at the beginning of very exciting times.

Ben Bajarin is the director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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