It was a busy year for the smartphone industry, was 2017. And as always, it witnessed a whole lot of innovation, some of it radical some of it derivative. Some became trends, and some fell by the wayside, while still others waited for their chance in another year. So as we come to the end of 2017, here’s a look at five trends that clicked in the smartphone world. And five that did not.
The five that were a bomb
18:9 displays – out, damn bezels!
Until the end of 2016, everyone was very happy with the standard smartphone display. No one had an issue with bezels. But then in 2017, thanks to the efforts of the likes of Xiaomi and Samsung, bezels suddenly became the bad boys everyone wanted to get rid of, and tall 18:9 aspect displays (with minimal bezels) suddenly became the rage. At first, we thought this would be restricted only to the premium segment, but the bezel-less fever has gone mainstream – as we enter 2018, you can get a phone with 18:9 aspect display for less than Rs 10,000.
Dual cameras – the age of bokeh
All right, so they had existed well before 2017, but 2017 turned out to be the year when the dual camera flight really took off. Initially, many people were skeptical about the advantage a second camera offered (and frankly after seeing the iPhone 8 and Pixel 2 camera results, we are still not sure), all the bokeh and blurred backgrounds in the world notwithstanding, but it now seems that everyone wants dual cameras – be it a premium or a budget segment device, not having a dual camera has suddenly become a major negative.
Water resistance – water, water everywhere, phone still works!
Yes, there are not too many people who take their phones to the shower or for a swim, but by the end of 2017, smartphone manufacturers were realizing that resistance to water resistance was futile. Almost all major flagships came with dust and water resistance, and while this feature has not really gone mainstream, but demand for it seems to be on the rise – “is it water resistant” is now a standard query in many product launches.
Glass backs – the Cinderella Slipper Syndrome
Just when we thought metal was everybody’s cup of tea, along came shiny, reflective but still durable glass backs. Yes, we had seen them before (remember the iPhone 4 and 4S and the Sony Xperia Z) but they had been exceptions rather than the norm. 2017, however, saw a number of notable devices coming out with a “mirror mirror on the back” design – these included the Samsung Galaxy Note 8/S8, the iPhone 8/8 Plus/ X, the LG V30+, and the Moto X4. Even those who did not go completely glassy, used a bit of glass on the back to be classy – look at the Pixel 2! Yes, they did get scratched and smudged easily (as we pointed out at https://techpp.com/2017/03/10/glass-back-smartphones-opinion/), and wireless charging did not catch on at speed expected, but 2017 ended with glass backs here to stay. Seemingly.
Stock Android – not out of stock yet!
Until 2017, most manufacturers believed in wearing their own skins over Android. But 2017 suddenly saw a number of devices going skinless. The most notable of these were from Lenovo which also embraced stock Android with open arms like its Moto brother. Then there was Xiaomi that actually came out with an Android One device, the Mi A1. And that was not all, we also saw Nokia and BlackBerry, those two old favorites, going for a taste of stock Android as they attempted to come back to the market. Even manufacturers who had their own toppings took pains to show that they were not too different from stock Android.
The five that bombed
Front facing dual cameras – do more, duo!
In 2017, a number of phone manufacturers try to play the selfie camera card to sell their smartphones. Many of these tried to do so by pushing dual cameras on their front rather the back. While the dual cameras on the back became a hit (read upstairs!), the ones on the front have been a miss so far. We are not saying they are dead yet, but they are pretty much hanging by a hype thread and need to do more than just being numbers – we have not seen a phone that has come with a dual camera set up on the front that has really added value or radically changed the way we take selfies.
Virtual Reality – more virtual, less reality
When 2016 ended, everyone was talking of putting their phones in a VR box and expanding their horizons – Google was talking of Google Cardboard, and Lenovo had TheaterMax. A year later, VR seems to have been trumped by its augmented reality brother. Yes, Facebook is talking about a super affordable VR Glass set in 2018, but the technology seemingly went missing in 2017, when manufacturers seem to forget about its existence. And so did consumers. Needed in 2018: better equipment, more immersive apps, and of, an experience that does not make our heads ache.
Stereo Speakers – one is better than two?
When it came to cameras, phone manufacturers were successful in making users believe that “two were better than one.” Unfortunately, this theory could not be extended to speakers. At least not yet. We did see some premium smartphones like the iPhone 8/8 Plus/X and Google Pixel 2/2 XL coming out with dual stereo speakers to provide users with a better audio experience, but by and large, most smartphone manufacturers got away with a single speaker on most of their smartphones. And it was not a matter of cost – we had stereo speakers on the super affordable K6 Power in late 2016, remember.
Removing 3.5 mm audio jacks – I ain’t going nowhere, darling
There was an almighty fuss when Apple decided to ditch the 3.5 mm audio jack on the iPhone 7/7 Plus. Many predicted that this signaled the end of the 3.5 mm saga in phones. But while some tech pundits had declared it dead (or dying at least), just like a Bollywood film hero, the 3.5 mm jack refused to believe its time had passed. Although two of the front-runners: Apple and Google, decided to go 3.5 mm jack-less on their phones in 2017, other manufacturers did not stop believing in the power of 3.5 mm. We think that rumors of its death might have been…exaggerated.
Mods – not many nods to mods
It breaks our hearts that mods landed in this category, for at the end of 2016, we had expected them to be the next big thing. But to say that 2017 was not a modular year would be an understatement. Just when we thought we would see an array of devices that could be added to or subtracted from our smartphones, here we are at the end of 2017 stuck with the same old phones that refuse addition or subtraction. LG seems to have stepped away from modularity altogether, and although Motorola is still hanging by a thread to the modularity tree (and is turning out great ads for it too), even it seemed to take a slight back foot when it came to talking about mods. We are not giving up on mods. We hope they do not as well.
Nimish Dubey contributed to this post.