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Slowing Smartphone Sales Implications for the Future

Recent marketing and sales studies from the world of mobiles have shown that the formerly rapidly expansive landscape of smartphones is beginning to slow. Best illustrated by a study from Canalys, sales in America are down 22 percent in Q2 of 2023. This is the worst performance the smartphone market has seen in a decade, offering significant implications for the smartphone market in the future.

With patterns repeating in the developed world, yearly upgrades are becoming less common, as users stick with the older devices for longer. A shift in patterns affects users as well as developers, where the choice of which mobile to buy next could become more important as a long-term investment than ever.


Why the Slowing Sales?

According to Canalys, the big two, Apple and Samsung, saw annual growth of -20% and -27% in 2023 respectively. The only name among the top sellers to see an increase was Google, which experienced a 59% growth in its 2% market share. This could be due to the launch of Google’s first foldable, which launched with great success in a still expanding market.

Slower sales overall reflect a market that is increasingly facing technological stagnation. Instead of the large generation leaps so common in the first decade of smartphones, newer phones offer few advantages that can justify such heavy investment. Phones today have essentially gotten ahead of the curve of what most users need, which is at odds with companies chasing the impossibility of infinite growth.


Users Making a More Informed Choice

With the iPhone first popularising smartphones in 2007, even the most technophobic users have had ample time to adjust to the possibilities and demands of mobile systems. With many on at least their tenth smartphone, they’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t, what they use their phones for, and what’s worth investing in for an upgrade.

A popular example could be found in the types of users who rely on their phones for social media and streaming services like Instagram and YouTube. Whether creating or watching videos, the technology to support this functionality is easily served by many devices half a decade old. With the system requirements and supported devices for YouTube starting at only 0.5Mbps, 3G would be enough to handle streaming, whereas modern 5G is overkill.

The same concept applies to more modern uses which are slightly more demanding, such as playing on the best new slots sites. These services like Cash Arcade and Jackpot Village run extremely well on older systems, where playing slots, browsing, and streaming live games simply don’t require an upgrade. As long as the phone supports HTML5, most users will have no issues jumping in and getting started, even from a budget device.

With functionality no longer a common issue, the other part of the equation comes from mobile’s place in fashion. While many of us ignore this aspect altogether, there’s no question that some users look to phones as fashion statements. This is especially true with Apple products, with looks helping some users in the computer space find which Apple laptop is best for them, and the effect being even greater with smartphones.

Cassette Case for iPhone 4 - Black
Cassette Case for iPhone 4 – Black” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by FreshFiber

Though this fashion-first section of the market will continue to buy, the largest accessory part of the phone market, cases and screen protectors, don’t rely on hardware changes. This can render concerns about being out of fashion minimal, as a new case can be just as important for some users as a new phone, provided their old phone continues to function optimally.


Developers Facing a Changing of the Winds

Mobile developers and manufacturers are facing a series of issues with slowing sales, as the market shifts to what could soon become a new status quo. Some have adopted planned obsolescence as a way to force users to upgrade, but this solution faces legal challenges and only generates negative attention in the long term.

The more forward-thinking developers are best illustrated by companies like Fairphone, who have made headlines recently for targeting eight-to-ten years of software support. With companies like Apple typically offering support for around six years, these newer approaches are earning considerable goodwill. Combined with vastly better repairability, the Fairphone 5 especially illustrated what the big companies fear as a new normal.

As for the big names, the old methods of upgrading full systems are looking like they’ll have to change. Exactly how this will manifest in a new market that the major names will financially fear, that much is still in question. The largest smartphone companies have far better means to face this issue head-on, but as history has shown, a reticence toward profound change has increasingly become a part of the mobile manufacturer modus operandi.

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