2021 will be a year when foldables get the much-needed push and 5G will be the buzzword
Simple smartphones will remain simple
Face it, a flagship phone from 2019 still gets the work done. There have obviously been improvements on the camera front in the last year but tiny photographs on social media feeds don’t do justice to the powerful shooters available on new phones. Do we really need to upgrade mobile phones? That’s the question most will ask in 2021. Only if your smartphone is not receiving the latest operating system upgrade, you may consider buying a new one. Or if some of your favourite apps have stopped working. Consumers will base their purchase decision more on needs rather than giving into corporate advertising.
Further, Android-powered devices will continue to have problems that are reminders of 2020 and 2019 and 2018…. Compared to Apple iOS, subpar optimisation of Android OS will make phone manufacturers push more RAM, higher screen refresh rates and bigger battery size, making devices bigger, clunkier and very 2020-ish. Apple doesn’t talk about RAM or battery size because it doesn’t need to. In short, the smartphone market — as we know it — will not see a big growth.
Foldables will be accessible
We have already seen what folding smartphones can offer in the past year or so but the category will spark a new level of growth for a few brands, especially Samsung. You really don’t need to stick to a single screen slab in 2021 because the phone factor is changing. At the moment, only a palmful of companies have access to such mould-breaking technology.
One wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung launches at least three foldable models at varying price points. Plus, expect more investments in the company’s manufacturing facilities in India. T.M. Roh, president and head of mobile communications business, Samsung Electronics, recently hinted — in a blog post — at lower prices coming this year. The Galaxy Z Fold2 was one of the best devices of 2020 but it was expensive. Things will change.
Xiaomi won’t be behind either. Ross Young, CEO of Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC), recently tweeted that “the next foldable to hit the market will likely be from Xiaomi who is expected to have three foldables in the market in 2021”.
LG will continue to build on the momentum of LG Wing swiveling phone while OPPO has already started showcasing some neat tricks in the category. Take a look at its “slide phone”.
So we’re going to see a lot more experimentation.
Bye-bye charging bricks
Apple kicked off a trend in a very Apple way — through controversy. Every other smartphone brand laughed only to fall in line. When Apple decided to leave out the charging brick from iPhone 12 boxes in 2020, it said there were environmental benefits to the decision. Excluding the wall charger and earbuds in the box means less to pack in the box and less of e-waste. Apple assumed that people buying the new iPhone already have old headphones and chargers ready to use. Those who need new ones, can buy these separately.
Samsung laughed at the move by putting out a Facebook post in October saying that a charging brick is “included with your Galaxy”. The South Korean company has deleted the post and is now believed to be making a similar move when the Galaxy S21 gets unveiled in January.
Lei Jun, the CEO of Xiaomi, has confirmed that its upcoming Mi 11 phone will not come with a charger. Soon after the launch of iPhone 12, the company had tweeted that it “didn’t leave anything out of the box” for its Mi 10T Pro. Well! Expect similar moves from many brands.
That one app
If 2020 has been about watching the world getting upended by Covid-19, 2021 will be about vaccines and that one (or two) global app to prove you have received the jab. We don’t know what that one app would be but it’s going to emerge as the most important member on your smartphone to say “this is the verification that I’ve got the jab”. It could be something from a big tech company like Apple, Google or Facebook (or a collaboration) or from a company we may not have heard of but it will certainly be an app that will be the ticket to a concert or a sporting event.
One of the things Covid-19 has brought to the forefront is contactless technology. Why hand over your credit card when your phone can do everything. Many phones have NFC chips which allow contactless payments. More people will start using it.
Apple has been adding an ultra-wideband chip to its phones to recognise each other more quickly to swap files. It’s a precise technology that can calculate locations with an accuracy of centimetres. BMW’s 2021 5 Series sedans are among the first cars to use ultra-wideband so owners can use their phones as a key. With such a technology, expect more than just automatic garage door openers.
Last year, Amazon launched a contactless payment technology, called Amazon One, which turns one’s hand into a personal payment instrument to pay for purchases made in Amazon Go stores, initially at two outlets in Seattle. The technology uses image of the palm of a registered user to gauge details like lines and ridges and the palm signature can authenticate payments.
India may finally get a taste of 5G in the second half of 2021, providing our policymakers don’t get into a squabble. The technology is still new in the US where only pockets of the country can experience it. One thing’s for sure, 5G will change the way devices interact with each other. “India is today among the best digitally connected nations in the world. In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate the early rollout of 5G, and to make it affordable and available everywhere. I assure you that JIO will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021. It will be powered by the indigenous-developed network, hardware and technology components,” Mukesh Ambani, the CEO of Reliance Jio, recently said at the fourth edition of India Mobile Congress.
If 2020 was about welcoming the new gaming rigs from Microsoft and Sony, this year will have plenty of new titles. Expect Halo Infinite, Far Cry 6, God Of War, Gotham Knights, Gran Turismo 7, Hitman 3, Deathloop, Hogwarts Legacy and lots more.
Phones to look out for
Samsung Galaxy S21: Expected to launch in three variants — Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21+ and the premium Galaxy S21 Ultra, devices in India maybe powered by the Exynos 2100 chipset, which is supposed to be lightning fast.
OnePlus 9: OnePlus will continue with its winning formula of delivering hardy but reasonably priced smartphones. What we should get is OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro and the affordable OnePlus 9 Lite. While the first two may have Snapdragon 888 chipset, the Lite model is expected to be powered by the Snapdragon 865 chipset.
iPhone 13: Expected to arrive only in September, we are hoping for three to four variants. We won’t be surprised if a port-less design is in the works, offering only wireless charging and data transfer.
Google Pixel 5a: According to 9to5Google, besides the Pixel 5a, there can be more Pixel devices, including a foldable Pixel phone.