2017: The year when smartphones were no longer defined by just price, specs
Let’s take a look at the top smartphone trends in 2017.
Smartphones got smarter in 2017.
From taking a portrait shot with DSLR-like shallow depth-of-field effect to unlocking a smartphone by just looking at it, 2017 will be remembered as a cornerstone in personal technology and for breaking the shackles of 'price and specifications' identity.
Even as there were incremental upgrades, such as better processors or performance in lower-end phones, we got the first wave of emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence right in our palms. And all of this subtly injected in the user experience.
Not all phones left a mark but, in hindsight, the overall crop was far superior to the phones launched last year. Let's rewind to the top smartphone trends in 2017.
Once considered as a feature exclusive to premium smartphones, dual cameras made their way to more affordable smartphones this year. Today, you can grab a phone with two rear cameras for as low as ₹12,999. And phones such as Honor 9i went on to incorporate four cameras (dual front and back) at less than ₹20,000.
But what difference does dual camera make? For starters, more and more phones were able to achieve the DSLR-like shallow depth-of-field effect, making them suitable for portrait shots.
From premium phones such as iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 to mid-range focused Xiaomi Mi A1 and Lenovo K8 Note, dual cameras became a feature in a majority of the phones. A key takeaway from the trend is that such technology is becoming more affordable and massy.
A lot of credit should go to modern chipsets that have brought native support for dual-cameras. For instance, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 450 processor, based on the 14nm FinFET process, comes with dual-camera support and is targeted at mid-range and budget phones. MediaTek introduced the Helio P25 chipset with dual camera support.
Stock Android, Updates and security patches
This year we saw users and smartphone brands turning their attention towards software. For instance, Android users long complained about grappling with bloatware and unwanted apps installed on their phones running custom UIs.
The problem with custom UIs was that they just slowed down the phones while shoving updates to apps that users most probably never used. Fortunately, the trend finally changed this year.
One of the major names to ditch custom UIs was Lenovo, which did away with the Vibe UI on its budget phones. Lenovo followed in the footsteps of Motorola, which offers a near-stock Android experience with a bit of customisation. Result, the UI felt leaner and faster.
Nokia, an iconic brand that made a comeback to the mobile phone industry via HMD Global, pushed the stock Android experience as one of its key USPs. Xiaomi joined the bandwagon with its A1, which was part of Google's Android One programme. Xiaomi Mi A1, Nokia 6 and Lenovo K8 Note are among the best mid-range Android phones this year.
But offering stock Android isn't enough. We saw smartphone companies extensively talking about future updates for their new phones - another sought-after request from Android users. Looking at the trend, we can safely say most of the top phones that launched this year are future-proof in terms of software.
Even before iPhone X was launched, a lot of smartphone players rushed to the full-screen bandwagon. Xiaomi launched its Mi MIX 2 with a full-screen whereas Samsung and OnePlus brought the experience to their top-end phones, the Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5T respectively.
After having used a slew of 18:9 screens, slightly older phones now seem almost archaic. Even though not all smartphones have become full-screen, but looking at the trend, expect future phones to have a bigger screen without actually increasing the existing dimensions - making them perfect for multimedia consumption.
What's more, edge-to-edge display became more accessible to the masses with phones like the Micromax Canvas Infinity, LG Q6 and OnePlus 5T. While Xiaomi has just introduced its Redmi 5 series with edge-to-edge display in China, InFocus launched India's most affordable full-screen phone -- Vision 3 -- priced at ₹6,999 this month. This phone even has an Apple iPhone X-inspired Face Unlock feature.
While no phone has been able to achieve a complete bezel-less design, we believe that's a milestone likely to be crossed in the coming months.
Digital Assistants, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality
Hey Siri! Tell me a joke.
Well, Siri and newer voice assistants such as Samsung Bixby and Google Assistants have shown they are capable of handling more complex things than just telling a joke. From setting reminders to give smartphone commands such as "take a selfie", assistants are becoming smarter and smarter with each passing day. And it's not just about delivering contextual information to users. Despite the gradual progress, these assistants seem way more smart than what they were in early 2017.
And, lest we forget, Google is bringing the feature to the lowest tier of the masses by adding Assistant to Reliance Jio's JioPhone -- a smart feature phone that costs just ₹1,500 (refundable security deposit).
Key apps such as Google Photos have also incorporated high-end machine-learning to enhance the user experience. Another great feature is Vivo's AI-based beauty mode in its F5. The smartphone scans your face to highlight your eyes and cheekbones, automatically making your selfies look much cooler. It may sound a bit gimmicky, but there are plenty who would buy a phone just for selfie features.
Augmented Reality (AR), which remained an elusive futuristic technology, finally came closer to mainstream this year. While there's already an elementary experience of AR via Snapchat and Facebook face filters, Google and Apple both made giant strides in this direction by incorporating ARCore and ARKit - native support for AR - in existing smartphones. If the recent ARCore-experience on Google Pixel 2 XL is anything to go by, the future of AR does seem really bright. ALSO READ: Google AR Stickers brings Star Wars, Stranger Things characters to life: Here's how to use it
Apple's iPhone X was a first in many ways. From an edge-to-edge display to studio-like Portrait light filters, the iPhone X stood apart from all the iPhones launched in the last decade. One of the biggest changes that Apple introduced with iPhone X was Face ID, facial recognition for biometric authentication. In simpler words, you can unlock your phone by just looking at it.
While iPhone X is an expensive smartphone, more and more Android players have incorporated similar features in more affordable phones. For instance, the OnePlus 5T comes with a Face Unlock feature as well. And OnePlus plans to roll out the same for OnePlus 5 as well.
InFocus Vision 3, a phone priced under ₹7,000, also offers a similar feature. Vivo has launched V7+ selfie-phone with a similar facial unlock feature for approximately ₹19,000. Even though very few phones offer this feature at present, but we expect more and more Android devices to have it in the year to come.