What is the future of smartphones

Future of smartphones: Bitkom industry expert in a c’t interview

Sebastian Klöß is responsible for the study "The future of consumer technology" at the industry association Bitkom. In the c’t interview, he dares to take a look at the future of smartphones - and at their end.

c’t: Mr. Klöß, one new Chinese smartphone manufacturer after another seems to be entering the European market, but Huawei is under great pressure due to a US embargo. The market as a whole is changing due to 5G and foldable displays. Who will be the largest smartphone maker in five years?

Sebastian Klöß: There are big players who have been very strong for years. And I believe this will continue to exist in the years to come. But there will probably also appear players that we don't even have on our screen yet.

c’t: The core, which will be retained, certainly means Apple and Samsung. Do you also include Huawei?

Sebastian Klöß: Huawei is of course a special case due to the US embargo. This is relatively difficult to estimate because there was nothing like this in the smartphone market and in consumer technology in general. This means that if the embargo conditions remain, it will continue to be difficult for Huawei to operate in the global market.

c’t: The statements made so far by the Biden administration do not necessarily suggest that the embargo will be withdrawn anytime soon.

Sebastian Klöß: It is too early to say what happens next. But even under the old administration, both Republicans and Democrats viewed Huawei very critically. These critical tones have not completely disappeared with the change of president, but I do believe that the cards will be reshuffled and developments will be more open. I think in about a year we will be able to say more precisely whether the US will open up towards Huawei.

c’t: Huawei has reacted by selling Honor and is bringing its smartphones onto the market in Europe, some in very limited numbers. How long can the group hold out?

Sebastian Klöß: It's difficult when you don't have access to the two dominant smartphone ecosystems. And that is the difficulty that will remain for the next few years.

c’t: Assuming Huawei regains access to Google services. Can the company even regain trust?

Sebastian Klöß: It is not lost forever. I think it's a current, practical problem. If you don't have access to applications that are extremely important in the smartphone world, that is difficult for users. When those functions are back, people will come back too.

c’t: Nevertheless, new, up-and-coming Chinese manufacturers are currently benefiting from Huawei's weakness. Whether Oppo, Vivo or Xiaomi: All of them appear self-confident, announcing one sales record after the other. What kind of corporations are they?

Sebastian Klöß: If we look at the manufacturers behind the brands, there are actually two big players. BBK Electronics with Oppo, Vivo, Realme and OnePlus on the one hand, Xiaomi on the other. Both have great economic power in China and correspondingly great technical know-how, with which they have ensured great dynamism in the German market.

c’t: Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus like to emphasize their independence from each other. How much of that is reality?

Sebastian Klöß: There is already an independence when it comes to brand philosophies or individual device features. But they have the same large parent company in the background.

c’t: What do consumers pay particular attention to when choosing a smartphone?

Sebastian Klöß: On the one hand there are innovations, on the other hand the basics. According to our current user survey, a break-proof display, screen and workmanship quality as well as battery life are the most important criteria before buying. That means you have to master the basics, the rest comes on top. The camera will also remain important for the next few years, but I don't think there will be another lens. That should be the end of the flagpole.

c’t: The folding display innovation, however, has got off to a stutter start.

Sebastian Klöß: I still think that folding displays are exciting, even if the development did not proceed as fast as you might have thought two years ago. The technical hurdles are higher than expected. But in our survey, almost 30 percent rated a foldable display for their next smartphone as important or very important. That means there's a lot of potential there.

c’t: Which new trends are emerging?

Sebastian Klöß: I see great potential in the whole complex of augmented reality. LiDAR sensors, which are currently only rarely found in top cell phones, will gradually slosh into the middle class, so that AR applications will be even better, more precise and faster.