The level of innovation at this year’s Mobile World Congress has been questioned by some of the industry’s most senior figures.
Samsung and Sony chose to launch products that made cumulative changes, as well as launching connected products in the virtual reality and headset markets.
Speaking to Mobile at the show in Barcelona, Dixons Carphone’s CEO Seb James and deputy CEO Andrew Harrison said many in the market had witnessed ‘a slowdown in the innovation’ at the event.
‘People are talking about a slowdown in the innovation,’ said James. ‘One generation of product looks much like the last generation, It’s harder to get these devices much thinner and lighter. I think people are worried about that, and that’s why we’re seeing a flowering of innovations in the VR space or with something like modular phones.
‘We’re seeing an incredible amount of buzz and energy, but not so much innovative progress. The other thing is that our industry has been consolidating into a very small number of very large players – mostly Apple and Samsung – for some years. Everybody recognises that is a challenge, except of course for Apple and Samsung.’
His thoughts were echoed by Andrew Harrison, who said that the industry had been focusing on the areas around the phone to compensate for the lack of change in the smartphone space: ‘There is a sense of “let’s concentrate some of the other things” because there isn’t the same level of innovation in the phone. There is a point here where the industry needs to sit and think differently about what comes next and where next. Or face the fact that sales are slow and replacement cycles will increase.
‘Consumers will look for different ways to spend their money if not. We’ve spent time with them trying to figure out how we should innovate. We’re encouraged because we see signs from people and a willingness to do things differently, to approach things in different ways from how they have done before. We think there’s more investment in physical retail around certain stories and certainly how they relate to wider ecosystems around the phone. While there are challenges, it feels as if people are willing to listen.
‘The obsession of operators to really aggressively drive SIM-only is a result of the slowdown in innovation. Because if customers are not excited by the technology they’ll just work out how to get it cheaper. What everybody needs all the time is to drive investment and growth in innovation.’
Refine vs revolution
However, for Samsung’s UK VP for mobile Conor Pierce, this year’s new product was more about refinement than revolution. He explained that the manufacturer didn’t feel it was necessary to overhaul the popular S6 design, adding that along with that, the business was also looking to develop new categories to enhance the smartphone.
He said: ‘We’ve refined the design – the S6 won so many awards last year, countless awards for design. Like a premium car manufacturer with the best premium model – they just make refinements and then every few years they’ll make a significant change – we’ve made some huge innovations on the device itself, but we’re also looking to build the new category of VR.’