Notch in the screen, emojis in augmented reality, brand ecosystem, cameras in the vertical … in the absence of a strong technological break for 2018, mobility seems to have given way to laziness. If we can not innovate, copy Apple.
For Numerama, the MWC 2018 is about to be completed. We spent 3 full days browsing the aisles of Barcelona's Fira Gran Via to take the pulse of the mobile industry. Every year, the Mobile World Congress is indeed an essential event: whether the announcements are numerous or the builders are cautious, the show allows us to know how will organize the coming year on mobility – and understand who has truly won the year that ends.
We will have the opportunity to talk about it again, but the idea that the year 2018 is at the bottom of a trough of innovation cycles is beginning to happen. Disruptive technologies are not there. 5G and its uses are still waiting, batteries that do not rely on the chemical limits of lithium-ion are not out of the labs, augmented reality has not yet emancipated from smartphones, wearables disappear without giving way to a less intrusive and more relevant mobile microcomputer.
From then on, mobility is looking for itself. But instead of being, she found, as so many years ago, a playmaker who is yet absent from the show: Apple. Without a stand, without a physical presence, without even an announcement that could have attracted attention to her, the Cupertino company was on everyone's lips, of all the models, of all the presentations. More diffused in previous years, its aura was extremely marked at this 2018 edition.
For a few more notches
By introducing its Galaxy S9, Samsung expected to create the sensation on the show, a year after the Galaxy S8 so acclaimed. But the bland developments of the smartphone, which some consider already more related to marketing than to real progress for the user, have not been as publicized as last year.
The "Infinity Screen" design that the Korean launched and that had the merit of advancing all manufacturers, including Apple, on the front of a smartphone, did not heavily influence brands. It is recognized by a lot of objective qualities, but not that of being recognizable between a thousand or to have an ergonomic advantage: a Galaxy S9, physical clone of the Galaxy S8, blends into the mass of smartphones. Beveled edges are not a sufficient commercial argument.
Samsung, who has always dreamed of being a forerunner, has to face a terrible report during the MWC: while its unique design and many times put forward was designed to upset the industry, everyone has passed the word to copy the notch of Apple. For a Galaxy S9 copied, there are 10 iPhone X cloned. We must take a step back and re-read this sentence carefully to capture all its absurdity: manufacturers are eager to copy an aesthetically differentiating element of Apple's smartphone, criticized more than it has been acclaimed, without the technical need that justifies its integration and especially, without an operating system that can take advantage of it.
To put it bluntly: Apple's notch was a trap for many and the whole industry jumped in without being asked, in the worst of ways – the exception being perhaps Asus. The marker of a smartphone in 2018 could be its ability to hide a larger or smaller part of the upper edge of its screen. Even Huawei would have done it for his P20. For no reason, if not look like Apple.
And if in hollow, Samsung has already lost its bet of influence, he also let himself be influenced – again, the trap set by Apple has closed. Like Huawei a few months earlier, the Korean giant wanted to develop his emojis in augmented reality, following the road drawn from a gimmick of the iPhone X: the Animojis.
But where these cute little creatures, expressive and remarkably animated, give character or humor to certain messages, their copies are all missed. That of Samsung, playing dangerously with the valley of the strange, is perhaps the worst. Why did you do this, why did you add this feature in a hurry? The Galaxy S9 did not need it and in the absence of camera before truly able to grasp the depth, is not able to meet the challenge. The answer to the question is simple: Apple did it, you have to do it.
As for the global strategies of the brands that can still afford to have one (the Korean companies, roughly speaking), there is also always a single term: the ecosystem. Years after Apple and the extensions of its operating system bricks used by developers in the form of Kit (HomeKit, ARKit, HealthKit …), manufacturers have plans to expand.
The LG House or the Samsung House, from the fridge to the TV via the connected speaker or the vacuum cleaner are pillars of a unified strategy around the smartphone. Like Apple and in the absence of differentiating factors at hand, brands today want to lock up, gather and retain their users. It's hard to know if they will succeed: creating loyalty is not a small undertaking.
Robot Portrait of Mobility in 2018
So, according to the Mobile World Congress, 2018 will have a notch, an ecosystem, vertical cameras and augmented reality emojis. Not sure that these promises of the industry coincide with what users are looking for. On the other hand, they validate the colossal, almost unhealthy influence of the Cupertino company in a market that always likes to describe it as a follower of trends. The aura of the iPhone X proves the opposite.