As usual, 2014 was a busy year for mobile. Apple released not one, but two bigger iPhones, Amazon jumped into the market with the Fire Phone, Android and iOS continued their dominance, mobile payments got a huge boost with Apple Pay, and mobile phone car integrations got a huge boost with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto.
I don’t expect that 2015 will be any different. There is still a lot of opportunity in mobile. It’s a dynamic market with rapid technology advancements making it hard for anyone to keep up. That being said, here are some trends that I’m watching the rest of this year.
- Android gradually pulls away from Apple in market share
Android and Apple have been neck-and-neck over the last few years, but I feel this is the year Android slowly pulls away. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is a great product, but the shear volume of Android competition is creating innovations that makes it hard for one company to keep up with.
- Smaller phones make a comeback
For some reason, it’s near impossible to buy a flagship phone these days that isn’t at least 4.7″ in screen size. We’ve entered the “SUV” stage of the phone market where bigger is perceived as better. While the bigger screens are great, there’s still a market for smaller 4″ handsets. It’s an end of the market that’s been abandoned, for now. I suspect we’ll see new flagship phones come out this year that will give people the option of carrying a pocket-sized phone again.
- Phone hardware advances stall
There’s only so many ways you can build and style a rectangular slab of metal and plastic with a screen. In fact, all of the latest hardware features are gimmicks rather than technological breakthroughs. In 2015, the biggest advancement will be made in software – both in the apps and the operating system itself.
- Modular phones open up new business models
Google’s Project Ara, a modular smartphone project, is slowly coming to life. When it does get here later this year, I expect it will open up a bunch of new business models and spawn a cottage industry of hardware manufacturers that will allow you to customize your phone. For example, are pictures you’re thing? You’ll be able to plug-in a great camera. Need extra battery life? You can trade-off features for a bigger battery. The options will be endless.
- Windows Phone (Microsoft) ends up third by default
Microsoft continues to spend their way to grabbing market share. The problem is, it isn’t working. Even though their share of the market declined in 2014, it fell a lot slower than their competitors. Microsoft is going to end up as the third mobile option. It’s not because they won, it’s because they had enough money to survive longer than their competitors at the bottom of the mobile food chain. While this may change with the launch of Windows 10, the effects won’t be felt until mid-2016 at the earliest.
- Amazon takes another run at phones
The Fire Phone was a flop for a myriad of reason, the primary ones being carrier lock-in and price. I don’t know much about Jeff Bezos, but I do know that he is a fierce competitor who wants to win. The phone is an important part of Amazon’s strategy, and they will take another run at it this year. They need to dramatically lower the price and bundle with a free/discounted phone service made available through Amazon Prime. I figured they could offer the phone service as an MVNO through one of the existing carriers, but Google may beat them to it.
- No-contract options continue growth
If you haven’t tried going no-contract, you should. T-mobile has been very successful acquiring customer with their no-contract options, so I expect that we will see more no-contract options from all the major US wireless carriers in 2015.
- BlackBerry gets acquired
As a hardware provider, BlackBerry is done. Their software, though, is still very valuable. I expect that 2015 will be the year that someone looking to enter or augment their mobile offerings steps up and buys BlackBerry.
- Wearables look for a niche
Smartwatches, Google Glass, and fitness trackers were all the rage this past Christmas, but in my opinion, they are a fancy solution looking to solve a problem none of us have. Do we really need to carry around more devices that scream for our attention? I don’t expect big things from wearables in 2015. In fact, I don’t see the market for wearables growing until they find their killer app.
- Tablets struggle to maintain their growth rate
Two years ago, it was predicted that tablets would clobber PC sales. Turns out people realized they still need PCs for true creative work. Tablets are great consumption devices, but they don’t need replaced nearly as often as phones. I suspect the tablet market will still be healthy in 2015, but don’t expect it to grow as rapidly as in the past, and don’t expect it to be a true replacement for the desktop/laptop PC – at least not in 2015.
- Apps adapt to car integration
Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are making their rounds at the car shows this winter and spring, which means we should see them in cars this summer. The car is a new context area for apps, so developers will have to adapt their apps to these new use cases. I suspect that developers will spend more time adjusting their apps for car integration than they will updating them for wearables.
- Mobile payment options advance, but don’t go mainstream
Apple Pay is gaining momentum in mobile payments, but mobile payments are still not ready for mainstream. The existing merchant credit card players are dragging their feet with mobile implementation, and businesses have too much invested in existing hardware to make wholesale changes. Mobile payments will continue to be an area of focus for lots of companies in 2015, but I still don’t see it as a mainstream payment option. Maybe in 2016, but I suspect it could be 2017 before the mobile payment market really takes off.
Out of all the above, the only constant I can guarantee for 2015 is change, and lots of it.