The Best of 2016 in the smartphone industry!

2016 has been a year of ups and downs as far as smartphones were concerned and looking back, we found some positives that will drive the industry forward in the near future.

The wireless revolution

A number of new technologies debut with smartphones and tablets every year, but when the industry leaders lead from the front with new technologies, it doesn't take long for them to seep in to other products. While Samsung took the lead when it came to wireless charging, Apple decided to turn 'courageous' this year by ditching the decades-old 3.5mm headphone jack in the latest iPhones.

A number of wireless Bluetooth earbuds, headphones and speakers have been around for a while but with Apple's new AirPods, the concept received a push like never before. Apple CEO Tim Cook today termed AirPods as 'a runaway success' and with CES and Mobile World Congress not too far away, it remains to be seen how many other manufacturers will be willing to graduate to wireless audio technologies at the cost of wired ones.

Huawei joins the elite league

Apple and Samsung have enjoyed leadership for far too long in the smartphone industry and thanks to their financial prowess, it seemed unlikely that anyone else would be able to lock horns with them in the near future in terms of investments or sales. However, Huawei recently surprised us all by announcing that it had achieved over 33 million smartphone sales in Q3 which isn't too far from Apple's estimated figures.

Huawei now boasts market share in excess of 15% in 30 countries and in excess of 20% in 20 countries which is a significant achievement for any phone maker in an industry dominated by Samsung and Apple over the last ten years. Sales of the P9 and P9 Plus have together crossed 10 million units so far, a figure even the most optimistic analysts wouldn't have imagined a few months ago.

The emergence of VR

Virtual Reality used to be a pipe dream of most device makers a couple of years ago but thanks to constant innovation, investments and competition, we have a variety of choices in front of us as far as virtual reality experiences are concerned. The likes of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR offer premium VR experiences and are quite user-friendly, letting buyers enjoy such experiences for hours at a go. At the same time, a number of cheaper VR headsets also allow buyers to enjoy VR despite not paying too much for it.

A new research conducted by CCS Insight and commissioned by Carphone Warehouse now claims that VR devices have had the highest growth rate among the main wearable categories this year. The report goes on to add that sales of virtual reality devices are expected to increase by 172% globally and that 45% of adults in the UK have had some kind of virtual reality experience. Thanks to their experiences, around 51% of adults want to buy VR headsets to access gaming content, 21% to view travel experiences and 8% for watching music concerts which they cannot attend. Google's Daydream VR headset will also become compatible with a number of smartphones by next year, thus bringing in millions of new customers within the VR fold.

Mid-range is the new premium

The difference between mid-range smartphones and premium ones in terms of performance, user-friendliness, battery life and features used to be quite stark until recently. However, with the entry of a number of Chinese, Korean and other Asian OEMs, the price tag of a smartphone no longer defines it's prowess and capabilities.

Usually, one would expect that a smartphone with the best features and specifications would easily cost in excess of £500. However, a mere look at specifications and features of a number of sub £400 phones like the OnePlus 3, the Moto Z, Honor 8, Huawei P9, ZTE Axon 7 and the Moto G4 Plus would suggest that they really don't have to be so expensive. Mid-range phone buyers can now choose from a range of high performance phones and phablets without having to spend too much and this bodes quite well in terms of high-end smartphone penetration, especially in regions where people don't see the point in spending their fortunes on smartphones.

Ever-improving mobile broadband

As far as the UK is concerned, mobile broadband has improved by leaps and bounds as far as coverage and speeds are concerned, even though some concerns still remain. As per a recent study conducted by Ofcom, 4G mobile coverage, which covered only 28% of UK premises last year, now covers 72% and will reach 98% by the end of next year. The report adds that total geographic 4G coverage has risen from 8% in 2015 to 40% this year, signifying an increase by five times and the geographic area which doesn't receive voice signals from all four networks has gone down from 42% in 2015 to 34% but Ofcom is confident that the improvement will be much better by the end of next year thanks to an agreement being inked between the Government and the major networks.

Besides coverage, a number of new networks entered the field this year, thus subjecting the big four networks to stiff competition in terms of pricing and customised offerings. Inclusive roaming is no longer a surprise, big 4G bundles are available at lower prices and choices available to customers are much more compared to last year.

The first steps towards implementing 5G networks in the UK were also taken this year. The Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) recently entrusted the Ordnance Survey to create a planning and mapping tool with assistance from the Met Office, the 5G Innovation Centre and others. The tool will help determine where radio antennae necessary for 5G networks can be placed to enable the networks to run smoothly. Thanks to the trial, Bournemouth may get the chance to be among the first cities in the UK to field a 5G network.

"The purpose is to deploy 5G quickly and efficiently. Linking OS data to spectrum information and meteorological data will deliver faster speeds and better coverage to connected devices, all the while helping keep rollout costs to a minimum. In creating a highly accurate digital model of the real world, with added in attributes and intelligence, OS is taking mapping and data visualisation to unprecedented new levels with what can be achieved, complementing the government’s Digital Britain strategy. It is a Smart map for a Smart future. We are delighted to be assisting Bournemouth, 2015’s fastest growing digital economy and one of this year’s Top 3 clusters for employment growth, in getting the town 5G ready,” said Andrew Loveless, Commercial Director at Ordnance Survey.

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