Smartphones: Size matters

Today's smartphones are so full featured that mainstream consumers often use size as a deciding factor.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

I spend a lot of time wondering what exciting technology will drive smartphones of the future. A big reason I do that is the volume of correspondence I get from folks asking about it. This leads me to speak with a bunch of smartphone owners about their usage, and what they want in their phones of the future.

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Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

What I've come to realize is that outside the smartphone enthusiast crowd, most folks are quite happy with their current phone, no matter what brand/platform. The only feature I hear the people on the street ask for in their next smartphone is that it be bigger or smaller.

We recently asked readers, a group tuned into the technology used in smartphones, what the next big thing they'd like to see in smartphones is. Some good features were mentioned, making it clear that enthusiasts are wanting more from the smartphone.

That's not what I'm hearing from the mainstream crowd, those consumers who happily use their smartphone a lot in their daily lives. It's not a scientific survey by any means but it's clear to me that regular people are for the most part quite happy with the functionality of their current smartphone.

The smartphone has evolved so rapidly that all of the things the consumer wants can be done quite handily. Whether that's emailing, text messaging, Facebook following, tweeting, or web browsing, today's smartphones universally do that without compromise.

Entertainment is handled nicely by the smartphone. You can listen to music, play games, and watch YouTube videos with ease. Most smartphones can be used to read ebooks for those who leave the Kindle at home.

I ask a lot of mainstream consumers what they want in their next smartphone. Surprisingly, what I hear from them far more than any other feature is that their next phone purchase will be a product either smaller or larger than their current handset.

Many people use their smartphone a lot, so the viewing screen is very important. That's the reason I'm given by many smartphone owners for wanting a phone with a bigger screen than they currently have. They want to see more stuff on the display, so a larger phone is what they want.

Conversely, those who tell me they want a smaller phone are usually owners of big phones that they find hard to manipulate in the hand. They like having the big viewing screen, but find the phone hard to carry and handle one-handed. They've decided that ease of manipulation trumps having lots of information displayed at once.

What comes through loud and clear in most the discussions I have with regular consumers is that they are quite satisfied with the capabilities in their current phone, no matter the brand or platform it runs on. That may be why we hear that smartphone sales are slowing down, not so much due to market saturation but because consumers' needs are already being met, and well.

That's got to be a concern to companies making phones. It's going to take a very innovative feature to excite this huge market, and it's not clear what that may be. There are already different-sized phones on the market, so there's no innovation there for them to fall back on. There must be some phone designers scratching their heads over what to do next.

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