03rd Jan 2013
Has the consumer tech world hit a plateau in innovation? Maybe not just yet, but we are very close. And it would be a while before we get to see the idiomatic "next big thing", whatever that may be. Barring few potentially significant new launches, like Windows 8 (and Surface); Sony's 4K TV (twice the resolution, or four times the pixel count of HD TVs) and Sony's expensive but brilliant large sensor compact cameras most of the other products launched this year have just been iterations of what came in earlier. In this multi-part series, each part will examine whether a not particular product or service has seen action this year. The first part, of course, has to start with the hottest segment that rules the roost in consumer technology: Mobile phones.
If you own a high-end smartphone bought in mid-2011 (or even early-2011 for that matter), there's no real reason to upgrade to anything that came out in 2012 — unless you've waterboarded your phone, or are just feeling rich. Sure, we saw more pixels being crammed into the same small screens and dual-cores became quad-cores as manufacturers outdid each other to achieve spec sheet glory. The sharpness that all those pixels promise is insignificant if you are dimming down your screen's brightness to eke out eight hours of battery life.
Playing Temple Run simply to use those four-cores and the fast GPU you have paid dearly for, does not count as exciting. Who would like to run endlessly, anyway? On a related note, Angry Birds has just about started getting boring — there's only so much you can do with flinging birds to kill pigs. We recently saw recently saw GTA making its way onto mobile platforms, but that's an isolated piece of news.
Dozens of budget large-screen phones came in this year, and that's indeed good news if you want a nice-ish smartphone, but are unwilling to pay for Rs 20,000 or so. Having said that, the dukanwala moniker of "cheap and best" rarely applies to gadgets. This segment is already commodotized (little that differentiates one model from another).
The iPhone 5, while being a worthy upgrade over the 4S (many sections of tech-media complained of the latest iPhone being a disappointment; I differ); India was not part of the initial launch. Costing all of Rs 45,000 for the 16 GB version without operator subsidy, makes it costlier than it should be.
Earlier in the year, we saw Nokia's PureView 808 – a camera that has a mobile phone attached, and it works well as a mobile phone too. Finally, a camera phone that focuses on the camera aspect more than just its communication side. Kudos, Nokia.
Another bright spot was the launch of Windows Phone 8 — finally a third player in the mobile OS game. On that note, an outcome of the happy marriage between Nokia and Microsoft, the Lumias (especially the 510 and 610) are giving budget Androids a good run for their money. Good for us customers.
Speaking of platforms, whatever happened to RIM (Blackberry)? Will BB10 be its saviour? I'm not making any bets yet, given the company's no-great-shakes launches in 2012.
iOS 6 didn't do much either, other than helping people lose their way. This surely proved, without doubt, that Apple too is fallible. Siri still does not understand the 'Indian accent' and S-Voice (the one in the Samsung Galaxy S3) is funnier still. Android 4.1 brought in additions that should have ideally been part of 4.0 itself.
Unexciting, but possibly fun to see the world's richest tech company make an idiot of itself (hint: maps)
Back in the days, a smartphone was distinguished from a "dumb" phone, by the former's ability to connect. Today, nearly all phones can bring the internet to you in some form or the other. And therein lies an irony: quality and cost of data services has been as mostly bad, showing only rare sparks of speed and reliability. It is ridiculous that in many circles one needs to buy a 3G plan to get decent 2G speeds. Epic fail!
Unexciting and frustrating.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it pretty much summarizes the year that was for mobile phones. As for other products, stay tuned for the next parts in the series.
2012 TechTree Wrap-up Part 1: Did Phones Get Smarter Or Just Boring?
Amidst all the launches, very little really happened. In part one of our year-end wrap-up we look at why the 2012 mobile story was (mostly) unexciting.
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