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The State of the Smartphone: October 2018

By Michael Castelluccio
October 1, 2018
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In recent years, the two giants in smartphone manufacturing have settled on autumn as the season for new releases. This year produced Samsung’s Note 9 and Apple’s new XR/XS iPhones. With the leaves soon falling, this is perhaps also a good time for an updated overview of what Forrester Research has declared “the most used electronic device.”

 

We’ll first look at some totals, because that’s easiest. Then we’ll try a deeper dive into the changes rippling out from the revolution that has been spreading since the ’90s.

 

IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS

 

According to Gartner’s 2017 numbers, the current leaders among smartphone makers are Samsung with a 20.9% market share, Apple with 14%, and Huawei with 9.8%. Samsung sold more than 321 million units in 2017, trailed by Apple (215 million) and Huawei (151 million).

 

Statista (www.statista.com) estimates that around 1.54 billion new smartphones were added to the worldwide inventory in 2017. Most of those (87%) were phones with the Android operating system—Apple uses the iOS system. The 2017 total represents a dramatic increase from the 680 million units sold in 2012. Statista notes that its numbers show that 28% of the world’s population owned a smartphone in 2016, and by 2020, that number will be 37%. By region, smartphone penetration will reach 60.5% in North America and Western Europe in 2020.

 

As an historical footnote on the most successful models, Wikipedia lists the following all-time leaders for the years 1992 to 2017: The best-selling candy bar mobile was the Nokia 1100 (2003). The best-selling flip phone was the Motorola RAZR V3 (2004), and the best-selling touchscreens are the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014).

 

Remember software stores and software in a box? Well, the stores have drifted off into the clouds. The leading no-box warehouse is the Google Play store, which contains 3.8 million Android apps for users. In second is Apple’s App Store, which has more than 2 million apps for iOS users (according to Statista first-­quarter numbers for 2018). If these numbers are surprising, the download counts are numbing. Statista cites Apple estimates that by September 2016 its apps were “downloaded a cumulative 140 billion times.” It helps that the average cost of an application in the App Store is $1.02.

 

It’s probably safe to assume that the 25-year revolution centered around the “most used electronic device” will continue accelerating on course.

 

ASSESSING THE CHANGES

 

There are obvious problems with any attempt to get a wider view of a river in which one is half-submerged. Add the swiftness of the shifting currents, capable of carrying the BlackBerry and Nokia flagships virtually out of sight, and the disruptions, both economic and social, and it isn’t surprising to see so many efforts now to reverse the engines.

 

Places displaying posted bans on mobiles are proliferating—schools, concert halls, restaurants, doctor’s offices—not to mention the dining room at home. There’s legislation against texting while driving and calls for stricter laws to guarantee privacy and to prosecute those guilty of phishing, identity theft, and online bullying. There are doctors who warn about growth misalignments from hours spent hovering over games or texting and browsing on mobiles. Psychologists have speculated over a new kind of alienation emerging, ironically, from our communication devices.

 

These are all signs of increasing discomfort and suspicions about this apparently elemental technology we all, or rather, more than 2.5 billion of us worldwide, have embraced.

 

Maybe we should start with a clearer picture of why this is such an obsessional technology. Jason Merkoski, who trained as a theoretical mathematician at MIT and later worked at Amazon where he helped invent the first Kindle readers, has a curious insight that could help. Merkoski believes that the pot was “the greatest invention of the Stone Age.” Before its appearance, he imagines “people most likely had to live closer to rivers or try to carry water with their hands, a futile task.” The pot made people mobile, able to carry food and objects anywhere.

 

He then makes a two-step jump to the present: “I think the ability to conceptualize and enclose volume in a man-made artifact is one of the keys to civilization. The high-tech equivalent of the humble pot is the information cloud.”

 

Now consider the iPhone, hanging on your belt or in your purse. It’s your own pot that can hold a terabyte or connect immediately to the cloud, the “giant pot with near infinite volume and near-zero size.”

 

That’s perhaps a major reason why we’re so attached to our mobiles. Now all we need are some better strategies for how we manage this obsession.

 

Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 23 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 20th year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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