Marta Pinto (Research Manager, European Mobile Devices)

Mobile technology changed our lives for good in the past decade. Smartphones became the most successful consumer electronics of all times, and as they brought the internet to our hands, new services emerged. Over the past ten years, mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, smart home devices, etc.) have disrupted our lives, so as a new decade begins, what are the top predictions for 2020?


1. Growth of 5G Devices and Services

The first prediction for 2020 – or is it a prediction? — needs to be the growth of 5G devices and services. As auctions take place and carriers roll out networks and services (in whichever form of partnership, shared infrastructure, nationalization of key infrastructure) and consumers start experiencing the benefits of 5G, selling hardware will become easier. The introduction of more models, and models in different price ranges, will diversify the current offering and appeal to more consumers.

In 5G devices, all eyes will be on Apple’s September launch. Last month Qualcomm raised expectations of a 5G iOS device to be launched within 9 months.


2. Increased Demand for Sustainable Batteries

This year’s Chemistry Nobel Prize rewarded the research on the lithium-ion battery. The importance of developing a more environmentally sustainable and safer source of power is a push not only driven by market demand but also by the scarcity of raw materials. The demand for batteries is expected to increase in many industries, mainly related to IoT and electric vehicles, and therefore all improvements are key, not just to avoid a shortage of supply, which could lead to market disruption, but also to improve safety.

For the smartphone market, batteries have been increasing in capacity as devices require more processing power, have bigger AMOLED displays and are now 5G enabled. The power needed to fill the new generation devices and make them still attractive in terms of form factors will require adjustments in battery capacity.

Again, the lithium-ion solution that was rewarded is expected to have a direct impact on smartphone battery capacity. Hopefully the need to charge devices less often as well as fewer faulty devices coming to the market is expected.

The impact of batteries in decreasing the footprint of consumers and manufacturers brings us to another urgent topic in the smartphone market which is environmental sustainability. Millions of devices are shipped… and retired every single year.

Taking a lot of rare minerals in its manufacturing process, smartphone recycling is the only way to the future. Driven by the scarcity of raw materials (remember the cobalt price hike in 2018), trade wars that might disrupt supply routes (remember that China has control of some of the more precious raw materials required in device manufacturing), and growing consumer awareness about  their own carbon footprint, device manufacturers and sellers are expected to somehow bring alternative solutions. Apple already introduced the first 100% recycled aluminum iPad, but other device manufacturers will see the opportunity too.

The push for trade-in and responsible disposable of electronic waste will be tighter as we go into the long-term scope, with a spillover effect on the upgrade cycles and business model (will device as a service apply to all devices?).


3. The Rise of Refurbished Devices

The refurbished devices market is not just a consequence of market demand but also a profitable way of responsible disposable of electronic devices. This market is forecast to continue to flourish and make first-hand sales more challenging.


4. New Form Factors Appearing

The dominant design is still the rectangular unibody device. From the invention of the notch, the punch hole, and pop up cameras, smartphones evolved to the re-creation of the foldable. New form factors are expected to continue to show up on the market and challenge the status quo.

Like any other innovation, these devices are expected to continue to be a marketing piece rather than mass market smartphones, at least until the technologies involved mature and the price drop allows for more affordable devices to come to the market.

The differentiation introduced by the form factors will act as a spur and new use cases will appear on the market. So far, gaming has been a fruitful testbed, but enterprise use cases will start coming to light.


5. Large Enterprises will Continue to Adopt Digital Disruptive Technologies

The enterprise sector in turn is expected to continue to adopt digital disruptive technologies. Improvements in unified management systems will encourage companies to adopt other devices rather than just smartphones. A seamless experiences cross OS and cross device will improve usability.

In this sector, Microsoft is expected to be a main player in 2020 and onwards, leveraging its already dominant position by including mode devices (surface duo) and software solutions (Windows 10X).


6. eSIM will Allow Users to be Always-On

Still on the productivity improvement note, devices are forecast to be always-on. The evolution of 5G chipsets and batteries (as already noted) will be paired with eSIM technology that will allow users to connect on the fly.

eSIM-enabled devices will in turn require communication service providers to reinvent data plans, making them sharable across devices.


7. WiFi 6 Solutions will Improve Users’ Connected Experiences

In the area of always-on connectivity, do not forget the impact of Wi-Fi 6. 5G will be a slow rollout in some geographies but Wi-Fi 6 solutions will made available, improving the user’s connected experience.

Among those connected experiences will be streaming — both consumption and production. 4K devices were already a reality in 2019, so improvements to 8K are expected in the coming years. The content will be widely available and the competition arising from the rollout of new services observed in the past year will give consumers options not just of themes but also prices.


8. Expect New Ways of Content Consumption

To disrupt the consumption of content, all eyes will be on the launch of more AR glasses and the pervasiveness of AMOLED touch displays in all surfaces (windows, mirrors, tabletops, etc.). Improved responsiveness and image quality are a powerful combination that can make consumers enthusiastic about innovations.


9. Security will be Among the Top Priorities

All the content shared (produced and consumed) as well as the undeniable fact that the smartphone is more than ever the hub for a digital life will continue to fuel the debate around security and the challenges of digital life. Regulation around data privacy and on-device vs. cloud data processing will continue, pushed not just by companies but also end users. Regulators will have a hard time striking the right balance between protecting users and fostering innovation. Restrictions on advertising, contests around company dominance and (ab)use of users’ data are forecast to continue to in the near future.

Content moderation will continue to be an issue, even with the introduction of powerful algorithms and machine learning to detect patterns of offensive content.

The debate around security will happen together with the debate around the increased AI capacity of devices. Ethics will continue to be on the table together with the need to reeducate and reskill users to the digital area.

Official authorities will not be alone and will partner with companies and consumer associations to make sure the technologies rolled out are not just accepted but used responsibly and safely.


10. Remote and Developing Communities will be a Focus.

Communities that are more remote or in developing geographies will also be addressed as an untapped market that companies will not want to miss. KaiOS growth in less developed areas shows that the appetite for digital consumption is real and efforts towards the rollout of such solutions — and devices! — will help leapfrog those geographies to the newest generations. IDC expects more operating systems to adapt to the needs of all clients, including more basic devices.


While the focus of the last decade was on expanding the adoption of mobile devices and improving their capabilities, the next decade will be about expanding their value. From new technologies that will improve experiences, to new services that will emerge with the launch of technologies such as 5G, next year we will see the foundations of a disruptive future being laid down.



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