On the eve of Samsung's Galaxy S10: Is there any innovation left in the smartphone market?

In this video roundtable, ZDNet’s David Gewirtz, Jason Perlow, and Adrian Kingsley-Hughes discuss the future of the smartphone. It’s not what you think.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

All eyes are on Samsung's Unpacked event in San Francisco and the launch of the Galaxy S10. Can Samsung's next flagship device save the smartphone industry? This roundtable discussion seems as relevant as ever.

Welcome to what I hope is the first of a regular series of virtual roundtable discussions about important questions facing the future of technology. In this installment, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Jason Perlow, and I look at where we're going with smartphones.

Jason's comment from April -- "We have almost certainly reached peak smartphone OS" -- got me thinking about this subject. I was curious whether that could be true. That gave the accompanying video our starting point.

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Here are some of the key thoughts you'll see discussed in more depth in the video:

Does innovation need the cloud?

It's all happening in the cloud. All innovation needs the cloud. There are definitely apps -- for example, biometric systems, smart room planners, exercise trackers, and food managers -- that have a long way to go until they're as useful as they can be, and all those apps rely on cloud-based data and AI.

Will inexpensive phones do it all?

Smartphone hardware is becoming commoditized like the PC market was in the last decade. Inexpensive phones under $200 will perform many of the tasks we expect from higher-end phones, including providing excellent cameras. Those devices are likely to be almost disposable, replaced every year or so.

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Can apps provide value and differentiation?

Instead of the value being in the hardware, it's up to the apps connected to the cloud to provide value and differentiation. While the phone hardware innovation is likely to be incremental, cloud-enabled apps have a tremendous amount of innovation headroom.

Does the smartphone form factor work?

While the smartphone was once a convergence device, expect a raft of secondary gadgets connected to smartphones. The smartphone form factor doesn't work for everything.

Will vendors force an app gap?

Microsoft might have the answer for developing smartphone apps more so than even Google or Apple. Microsoft is becoming a tools vendor and an infrastructure vendor rather than primarily an OS vendor.

Will vendors force an "app gap" by fostering exclusives on their platforms? This could mirror how video game platform companies are trying to distinguish themselves and get buyers onto their platforms.

We're not looking at mobile-first companies. We're looking at cloud-first, and mobile is how you get to it.

Read also: 2019 iPhone features: Here's what Apple is preparing, says noted analyst

Do people care about security and privacy?

Where does security and privacy fit? Do people care? Some do, but not for day-to-day things. But personal health and financial data needs extreme protection, which may not be available, especially given that vendors are not pushing updates to users.

There's a lot more we discussed. Be sure to watch the video and share your thoughts below. Let us know if you like this format, and if you'd like to see more programming like this kind.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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