As 2018 wraps up, we reflect on the smartphone industry and examined top smartphones trends that took centre stage, with at least one feature making significant impact in day-to-day life, in the course of the year.
From luxurious Samsung and Apple smartphones, budget smartphones that hit the market in 2018 to multiple cameras everywhere, fast charging tech, and more, the year also saw advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition coming mainstream.
The quest to annihilate bezels on smartphones and achieve the dream of an all-screen smartphone has seen in-display fingerprint sensors become a reality and display notches become the new normal.
Smartphones trends: Multiple cameras everywhere
No doubt, 2018 saw dual cameras becoming ubiquitous in smartphones and this year manufacturers took things up a notch with three-camera and even four-camera becoming key features.
The Huawei P20 Pro was the first smartphone with a triple-camera setup at the back, and now Samsung has followed suit with the A7 (2018). Lenovo and Vivo are also set to launch smartphones with triple camera setups by the end of the year.
Samsung has even launched a smartphone with four cameras at the back in the form of the Galaxy A9, which has a 24-megapixel primary sensor, a 10-megapixel telephoto sensor with 2x optical zoom, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor.
Dual camera selfie shooters have also started becoming commonplace with manufacturers like Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo embracing the selfie craze head-on.
Smartphones trends: Display notches the new normal
The Galaxy S8 ushered in a fundamental shift in smartphone design with a drastic reduction in bezels and near edge-to-edge displays. In order to further reduce the bezel, manufacturers found themselves in a predicament. The front camera, earpiece, and sensors had to go somewhere, and notches have so far been the solution the industry has adopted.
Companies like Oppo and Vivo experimented with pop-up or sliding cameras in order to get rid of the notch but these experiments are riddled with compromises, and are not ready for mainstream adoption. Honor, however, announced a phone with an in-display selfie camera, a few hours before Samsung actually launched Galaxy A8s based on this latest trend.
The notch is undoubtedly a contentious issue in smartphone design, but for the most part it seems to be a necessary evil in order to make today’s narrow-bordered smartphones a reality.
If for nothing, 2018 would be remembered as the year when display notches became ubiquitous in smartphones – across all price levels.
Smartphones trends: In-display fingerprint sensor
The drive to eliminate bezels and produce all-screen smartphones has pushed the fingerprint sensor inside the display. The first wave of phones with in-display fingerprint sensors is now upon us with Vivo leading the way. The Chinese smartphone giant was the first OEM to showcase a smartphone with an in-display fingerprint sensor and now offers multiple devices with the same.
OnePlus and Huawei have also introduced phones with the futuristic feature and it shouldn’t be long before others follow suit. The technology is a bit raw at the moment, with in-display fingerprint sensors unable to match physical sensors in terms of both speed and accuracy, however, this is expected to change in the future.
Smartphones trends: Fast charging
Fast charging is not really a new feature but 2018 has seen manufacturers introduce faster and more efficient charging methods. No longer restricted to flagships, a plethora of budget/mid-range smartphones now feature support for fast charging.
Smartphones trends: USB-Type C
The reversible USB Type-C standard, which was designed in 2014, has finally started to gain mass acceptance. Not only is Type-C reversible, it also allows for faster charging and data transfer speeds. While there is still ways to go before Micro-USB disappears, 2018 has seen smartphones across all price segments ditch the age-old standard and adopt USB-Type C. While Apple has adopted USB Type-C across its entire laptop/desktop line-up — and even the new iPad Pro — it is still sticking with its proprietary Lightning standard on the iPhone.
Smartphones trends: Glass backs
Driven by the popularity of the iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy S series of smartphones, glass has become the material of choice for smartphone manufacturers in 2018. This trend is not limited to just high-end smartphones, with budget offerings like the Nokia 5.1 Plus, Honor 8X, and Realme C1, all featuring glass backs.
Glass allows for better wireless performance without resorting to antenna lines, and allows for wireless charging to be implemented as well. However, this trend is being driven primarily by aesthetics, as evident by the fact that most smartphones with glass backs lack wireless charging capabilities. While glass backed smartphones undoubtedly look premium, they are more fragile than their polycarbonate and metal counterparts and also get smudged very easily.
Smartphones trends: The place of AI
AI was the hottest buzzword of 2018, with most smartphones having some sort of AI features built-in. AI has now made its way inside the underpinnings of smartphones, with processors like Huawei’s Kirin 980 and Apple’s A12 Bionic containing a dedicated chip to handle AI computations locally. Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 855 features also feature a multi-core AI Engine, as well as a Computer Vision ISP which helps phones recognize objects and faces.
The trend does have its downsides. Some manufacturers are cashing on the AI craze by pushing the label a bit too liberally. Not everything marketed as AI actually involves any machine learning and some manufacturers are adding the AI prefix to features that have been found in smartphones for years.
Smartphones trends: Flagship vs budget
In 2018, smartphones manufacturers continued to focus more on the budget and premium smartphone space. However, the very definition of a flagship smartphone has undergone a transformation, with phones under N40,000.00 now sporting flagship level specifications, giving more expensive variants serious run for money.
The Poco F1 and Asus ZenFone 5Z for example are powered by the Snapdragon 845 chipset seen in expensive flagships by the likes of Samsung and other companies. While the Poco F1 by Xiaomi cuts a few corners in terms of build quality, Asus’ budget flagship of the year offers a premium build quality and AI enhanced software features.