For most of the last decade, the number of annual smartphone sales each year has been fairly steady. It ranges from about 1 to 1.2 billion devices sold per year. Yes, there can be ebbs and flows in the market, winners and losers among manufacturers, but sales have been consistent. But over the same time, the number of smartphone users around the world has been fairly static, albeit growing slightly. For instance, from 2017 to 2020, the number of global smartphone users grew from 4.86 billion to 5.22 billion, or from 64.39% to 66.97%.
So, you don’t need to be a maths genius to appreciate the following statement: global smartphone sales are driven by people upgrading their devices, and only a small percentage are getting their first device. The issue has become a concern for several reasons, not least the environmental impact of smartphone production.
Big Tech companies offering right to repair
But manufacturers are beginning to act. Apple, the company that has traditionally been most reluctant to allow outsiders to mess with their products, has offered a new “right to repair” system, giving device owners the tools to fix their own products. Samsung has followed suit with an even more comprehensive repair scheme. A couple of weeks ago, Google announced it was doing the same for its Pixel range.
These steps have been lauded as important in weaning us off our addiction to smartphone upgrades. But it’s arguably not enough. For millions of us, the allure of the latest model is overpowering. And yet, some of us are now seeing it as more of an illusion. When was the last time, for example, that you were truly wowed by the launch of a new iPhone? Faster chips and better cameras each year, but there has been nothing revolutionary for a long time.
One of the areas that have been under scrutiny is that of gaming. In an article on Today Headline looking at the preposterous idea of a smartphone being more powerful than a PC, the writer mused: “Mobile phones aren’t like consoles; there aren’t just two or three versions that all gamers have. There are hundreds of different types of mobile phone, and to ensure that all mobile owners can play games together, most titles are optimized to play on all devices.”
The point the writer was making is that you don’t need a super-powerful smartphone to benefit from gaming. Even games like live blackjack, which involves a live stream from a studio with real dealers and relies on instant real-time actions, are optimized for multiple devices. Anything fairly modern with a decent internet connection (4G or above), and you won’t really notice the difference. Yes, some games can be enhanced by using the latest iPhone 13 Pro Max, but the majority aren’t.
Beginnings of a change in attitude
Now, as we have said earlier, smartphone sales have remained fairly consistent. So, it’s not as if people are suddenly holding onto their old devices. But we can see the beginnings of a change in attitude, and campaigners hope to see a snowball effect. Right to repair is certainly a step in the right direction, as it at least removes one of the barriers to holding onto a smartphone for a while longer than usual.
We should also note that authorities have been getting tougher on smartphone manufacturers in terms of future-proofing devices. The policy of “planned obsolescence”, which many electronics manufacturers have been guilty of employing, is now well and truly frowned upon, and authorities will act. If you weren’t aware, planned obsolescence is the practice of creating a product with a deliberately short shelf-life. In terms of smartphones, it would mean building a device that no longer supports the latest updates.
Perhaps we aren’t ready just yet to give up our desire for the latest shiny new object. Tech is constantly evolving. And with new experiences like the metaverse on the horizon, you can be sure that the next generation of smartphones will give us another reason to buy them. But there is a growing consensus that maybe, just maybe, that iPhone you bought two years ago could last you a while longer yet.