Earlier this month, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge from Samsung went on sale all over the world, and they’ve clearly been doing pretty well for the company. With some more party tricks up its sleeve, compared to last year’s model, the Galaxy S7 has been pushed by pretty much every carrier out there, and it’s no reason why; the smartphone industry needs Samsung. If the fact that Apple makes more profit out of their outdated designs with yesterday’s features than anyone else wasn’t indication enough, things aren’t looking great for the smartphone industry. There’s a reason that lower-end devices, such as the Moto G and ZenFone 2 have captured so much attention and there’s a reason the Galaxy S7 Edge and LG G5 are just that little bit different compared to devices from 2014 and earlier. The smartphone is getting long in the tooth, and despite the fact that they’ve gotten faster, connection speeds have multiplied and software has gotten more sophisticated the smartphone is overdue an evolution and we’re finally starting to see the beginning of such a thing.
You might wonder why the smartphone can be called “long in the tooth”, after all devices like the Galaxy S7 are some of the best smartphones around, and 5 years ago would seem revolutionary to a lot of users. Still, 5 years ago we had devices like the Galaxy S II, Droid Incredible and the iPhone 4S. What do the the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S II have in common? Pretty much everything. Despite performance and how Android has changed over the years, the Galaxy S II was used by users back then much the way that people will be using their shiny Galaxy S7, they connect to the web, run Facebook and Snapchat, play games and take photos. The only difference between these two devices – aside from 5 years – is that the Galaxy S7 is better in almost every single way. The Galaxy S7 Edge, on the other hand, is visibly and noticeably‚ different.‚ This is where smartphones are heading, and it’s about time, too. We’re finally moving away from smartphones that are simply better, to devices that are different.
Project Ara is a prime example of where smartphones are going. We might be 2 or 3 years away from an affordable Ara smartphone running Android, but the idea of being able to swap something out for a different part to noticeably change your smartphone is genuinely revolutionary. I’m a fairly boring smartphone user, I spend so much time writing and talking about them for a living, that at the end of the day I don’t need to do much with my personal device. A perfect Ara phone for me would have a better audio module, a fine camera and added battery life. Aside from a decent display, everything else is a “take it or leave it” proposition for me, and this is where Ara will be able to inject some much needed variety into the smartphone landscape. Sure, there’s so much choice – on the Android side of things, at least – that I can go out and buy an HTC One M9 and achieve a better sounding device, but then the M9 is known for a poor camera and headphone output isn’t much better than anything else. Right now, devices from pretty much every manufacturer – Samsung, LG, Sony, Motorola, HTC and so on – force customers to make some sort of compromise. The Galaxy S7 Edge has a great camera, and a pretty decent headphone output, but the speaker output is “meh” like most other devices, and I can’t change out the battery as I could with a G5.
Speaking of the LG G5, its modular approach goes far beyond just the ability to change out the battery. The LG G5 offers an extended camera grip with the CAM Plus module, a better overall sound with a Bang & Olufsen DAC module and there’s a plug-in VR headset to boot. This modular approach is, along with Project Ara, a perfect example of where smartphones should be headed, and is a massive 180 to the iPhone approach that many – including Samsung – keep on chasing. Rather than wanting to be your everything device, the G5 wants to offer you a way to do everything, but not necessarily through one device.
What we do with our devices is changing as well. Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp might be some of the world’s most-used apps and networks, but that’s just second-nature to a lot of people these days. Not only that, but these apps are only more evolution from what we were using our devices for 5, 6 or even 7 years ago. When the HTC EVO 4G and its then-massive 4.3-inch display launched we were all raving at the ability to see more email onscreen and more space to see Facebook with. That feeling is perhaps the same as having a better camera to take better images for Snapchat and Instagram. Now however, we’re looking to connect and control our home from our smartphones, we control our televisions using our smartphones, and as Android Auto has proven, the smartphone is becoming more of a conduit for other experiences, not the beginning and end of just one experience.
Philips Hue users and those that have some parts of a smart home setup, with a Ring doorbell and security cameras will be able to tell you how a smartphone is just a key to unlocking other devices and experiences. On a very small scale, I control my Sony Android TV with my phone, I use Spotify Connect to change tracks on a PS4 connected to my HiFi and I have Bluetooth color-changing bulbs and lamps throughout the house. Without my smartphone, doing all of this would be messy, but one device brings all of these things together. This is an example of how the way we use our devices is changing, and changing for the better. We’re finally beginning to harness the power of these sophisticated devices for much more than simply staring at a tall display endlessly scrolling through lists of thoughts and shares online.
The Internet of Things is changing what we think our smartphones are good for. A lot of people, after a long day at work, might use their smartphone to find something on Netflix to cast to their TV, change the lighting and so on, but in a few years our smartphones might be the key to all the appliances in our home. I’m convinced that it will take longer than the industry thinks – or hopes – for this sort of thing to catch on, but it’s clear we are using our devices for more than just what a smartphone is traditionally thought of being used for.
With the LG G5’s “Friends” approach, along with devices and hardware connected over the Internet is making the hardware less and less relevant. It’s no longer all about the smartphone you have, but rather the services and features that you use with this device. For instance, I could swap out my OnePlus 2 for a Motorola Moto X Pure and everything I have will still be the same – give or take – as it was before I swapped. I would log in to Spotify and all my favorite music is there, my watch would – after a reset and such – work just as before, I would just reconnect to smart Bluetooth devices and my overall experience wouldn’t change. So, how can smartphone manufacturers keep us excited about buying what’s next? Especially in the Android world where services are so interchangeable and one account and password unlocks everything?
We’re starting to see possible solutions to that conundrum from the likes of LG and Samsung with the G5 and Galaxy S7 Edge. In the case of the G5, LG has an excellent VR headset, one that’s lightweight and high-resolution – but it needs the G5 to work properly. This makes the G5 a necessary component to someone that wants that experience in their life, for instance. The Galaxy S7 Edge meanwhile, is focusing on the more traditional hardware side of things. With its double-edged display, the Galaxy S7 Edge – like last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge devices – stand out from the crowd. They’re different, eye-catching and something noticeably different from the sea of “me too” devices from, well, pretty much everyone else.
The smartphone is slowly, yet steadily starting to evolve into something that leaves the old definition and idea of what a “smartphone” is. Not only in what we connect to and what we can do with our devices, but in how they look and how they’re designed. The Internet of Things is making the smartphone just one more interchangeable device, but the Galaxy S7 Edge is making them desirable again, turning these slabs into something people want and objects people are excited about. Let’s be honest, the first iPhone was a turning point, it revolutionized what we thought a cell phone was capable of and what it should be. Now, we’re living in a smartphone 1984, everything is pretty similar aside from a few differences. We’re long overdue an evolution into something that’s more useful, something that’s not just more of the same, and the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 are signs that we’re finally starting to get there. With Project Ara and more flexible display technology on the horizon the next 2, 3 years look really exciting for the smartphone, and it’s about time things became exciting again.