With Apple, Samsung under pressure to amaze, what new smartphone features will we see later this year?
Augmented reality is just one new technological advancement we might see on phones this year as the two smartphone market leaders fend off competition from Chinese firms Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi and Google updates its Pixel
As they gear up to launch new flagship smartphones, Apple and Samsung are seeking a wow factor that can help them fend off challenges from rising Chinese-based manufacturers.
Apple is under particular pressure to dazzle as it looks for a way to maintain its image as an innovation leader in a global market showing signs of slowing.
“Clearly, Apple wants to do something different for the [iPhone’s] 10th anniversary,” says Stephen Baker, an analyst at research firm NPD Group.
Baker explains that this is a challenge for Apple because “it is still going to be a flat piece of glass and the other things we talk about around a phone.”
Apple is widely expected to unveil the latest iteration of the iPhone in September, while smartphone market leader Samsung has just unveiled its Galaxy Note 8 handset.
The two market leaders are seeing rivals, mainly from China, chip away at market share, creating pressure to showcase innovation, say analysts.
Some reports say the new iPhone will include a high-quality, edge-to-edge screen with a notch in the top for an extra camera supporting 3D facial recognition.
Others speculate that the back of the new handset will be made of glass and will offer wireless charging.
“We are expecting a major design refresh from Apple,” says Avi Greengart, an analyst at GlobalData. “That has been a sore point, especially in China. People are looking to show off a status symbol, so it needs to look different than a Huawei or Xiaomi, and I think it will.”
Apple has lost ground in the Chinese market, with revenues down 10 per cent in the past quarter from a year earlier in its Greater China segment.
Some reports say Apple could release as many as three new handsets, including an “iPhone Pro” aimed at capturing the high end of the market.
Global smartphone sales saw a modest decline of 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2017, as market leaders Samsung and Apple consolidated their positions, a recent survey by research firm IDC showed.
Samsung maintained the top spot with a 23.3 per cent market share, while Apple held on to second place with 12 per cent, according to the report. Huawei was the third-largest vendor, with an 11.3 per cent market share. China-based Oppo and Xiaomi rounded out the top five.
Samsung is in its stride with the recently released Galaxy 8 flagship phone and has seemingly recovered from the embarrassing recall of the Note 7 model due to batteries catching fire.
“Samsung had the Note 7 debacle, but it appears their troubles are behind them,” Greengart says. “Samsung is doing some amazing things with its display and design.”
NPD’s Baker says he expects “the drum beat of hero Android phones” that could challenge the iPhone “to be a little louder this year that it has been”.
Meanwhile, the Google-made Pixel smartphones that debuted last year will likely get a second generation in the months ahead.
New Pixel phones are expected to have richer screens and an additional front speaker, as well as a second camera on the back for depth-sensing in line with the current trend.
Brian Blau, an analyst at technology research firm Gartner, suggests that – aside from Apple trying to wow with an anniversary iPhone – flagship handsets launched this year would have incremental improvements, not radical transformations.
“There will be a small number of new players, and that always brings excitement,” Blau says.
New entries include the “Essential” smartphone from a start-up founded by Andy Rubin, who is credited with being the father of Android software.
Essential Products, whose backers include internet colossus Amazon and China’s Tencent Holdings, began selling its US$699 handset this month, touting its ceramic and titanium construction and the ability to add accessories on a magnetic connector.
Some upcoming handsets may showcase the ability to handle augmented reality (AR) as a way to revive interest, according to some analysts.
Google has pushed AR with its “Tango” platform and enabled Pixel handsets to be used for virtual reality with its “Daydream” gear. Apple, meanwhile, has made an AR kit available to developers that could lead to related iPhone apps.
“The standard AR demos we have seen for years as a future thing – seeing how new furniture looks in your living room or virtual coupons hanging in mid-air in supermarket aisles – we will see this autumn,” Greengart predicted.
Smartphone makers are also expected to do more with voice recognition and commands, making handsets more attractive in places where literacy rates are low but mobile internet access is available.