The year 2016 has been nothing short of memorable for several reasons. This is as true for the mobile tech world as it is for any other. A lot of events happened this year: companies saw rise, companies saw falls, devices sporting revolutionary features emerged and much more. These events will lay the ground work for 2017, but before we get ready to break open that bottle of campaign, let’s recount some of the events that have made 2016 such an epic year.
MODULAR PHONES BECOME A REALITY
Early this year, we saw the first mainstream modular phone become available for purchase, the LG G5. Keeping true to its contempt for phones without removable batteries, LG had the G5’s bottom detach for the rest of the phone, allowing the battery to be accessed. This also made way for attachments to be added on. Suffice to say, it hasn’t had the best reception, but it marks a notable point in smartphone technology. With the concept of modularity, comes an entirely different way of thinking about what a smartphone is. After the G5 made it into hands, in comes Lenovo basically saying “this is modularity done right” with its launch of the Moto Z phones. These bad boys threw LG’s questionable modular design philosophy in its face with their modules (or “Mods) that easily snap onto the back. This was a slap to LG’s face, as it didn’t require removing the battery to change modules. Neither phone sold well, and no other OEM seems to be in a rush to produce the next modular phone. Will modularity survive? Who knows?
OEM’s DITCHING THE 3.5 MILIMETER HEADPHONE JACK
You don’t realize what you have until your favorite OEM yanks it from their latest release. 2016 saw a handful of companies leaving out the headphone jack from their phones: the iPhone 7, Moto Z, HTC Bolt, and the Cool S1. There’s even talk that the Galaxy S8 will also drop the headphone jack. More companies seem to be jumping on this train despite how upsetting it is. USB Type-C/Lightning audio seems to be a trend that’s going to continue, and possibly grown in the next year.
SAMSUNG’S NOTE 7 FIASCO
Samsung’s meteroic rise early this year with its Galaxy S7/S7 Edge duo is definitely worthy of a spot on this list, but it’s unfortunately outshined by the companies recent disaster. Just three months ago, the ever popular Galaxy Note series just got its latest iteration, the Note 7 (for those living under that proverbial rock), and it proved to be a run away success… until reports trickled in of handsets severely overheating and even catching fire. Using the term “explosion” is a bit extreme, as none of them actually exploded in the literal sense. That’s little consolation for this matter, however, as the units posed a direct threat to those who used them. This forced the company to recall all of the nearly 2.5 million handsets that were sold and replace them with phones with batteries not manufactured by Samsung SDI (the company originally thought to be at fault). But reports came in of even the replaced units catching fire, forcing Samsung to recall them yet again. The company is still trying to find the cause of the “explosions”. With this under their belt, we’re all hoping that the Galaxy S8 will not have this problem.
THE “FLAGSHIP KILLER” MARKET EXPLODES
They called it the “Flagship killer”. The OnePlus 1 brought us a nearly flagship experience back in 2014, bringing some hefty specs at a low price. Not many phones stood up what OnePlus stood for until pretty early this year. The third iteration in OnePlus’ main line of smartphones launched, but there were other phones that offered a premium experience at a low price. Making a splash early on was the Honor 5X. This $200 phone didn’t quite bring the latest and greatest specs to the table, but it was wrapped in a beautifully designed body that was indicative of a $500 or $600 phone. The Alcatel Idol 4S launched and, like the 5X, didn’t being the latest processing package, but brought with it a sharp 2K (2560 x 1440) display and had a beautiful metal and glass build. The ZTE Axon 7 launched and brought the latest specs at a tempting prices of $400. The Honor 8 isn’t far behind, being priced at the same price of the Axon 7, but with Huawei’s Hisilicon Kirin 950 SoC and a gorgeous glass build. Other phones launched this year with flagship features, but at a price that goes down easily. It’s definietly going affect the smartphone market in 2017 for the better.
GOOD BUY NEXUS, HELLO PIXEL
Google’s Nexus phones have always been one of a kind. They stood apart from other smartphones that were in the wild. They were the conduit to display the latest, purest version of Android available. This made them appealing to android purists, but the Nexus name is no longer Google’s pride and joy. For months leading up to Google’s 2016 phones, we refered to them as Nexus devices (Merlin and Sailfish) but the company shocked us all when they gave them the name of their Chrome Book line “Pixel.” Unlike with its Nexus phones, the Pixel was actually designed by Google. HTC did do the actual manufacturing, but Google was the brains behind it. The company put so much energy into putting the Pixel line front and center, that it actually alienated its Nexus users by giving the former the latest and greatest software and AI, and leaving the Nexus phones in the dust. This upset many Nexus users, but it’s understandable. This is a new era for the company, and will push them further.
BLACKBERRY DROPS OUT OF PRODUCING HARDWARE
Needless to say, Blackberry has seen better days. The Canadian company used to be at the top of the charts years back, but they’re now having trouble navigating the modern smartphone terrain. Last year, they launched their first Android powered phone, the Priv, and this year, it was the DTEK 50 and the DTEK 60. Neither of these handsets were considerably successful, leaving Blackberry with a bleak decision. They’re giving up on designing and manufacturing their own phones and are sticking to focusing on the software side of things. TLC, the company that designs Alcatel’s phones, will take over designing Blackberry’s phones (they also designed the DTEK 50 and DTEK 60, hence the similarities to the Alcatel Idol 4/4s). This is a financially practical choice for Blackberry, as they’ve been loosing money fast, and in order for them to survive, they’re going to have to cut their losses. Those Remaining Blackberry fans out there should be happy that the Blackberry will still be around.
APPLE CATERING TO THE (GASP) BUDGET MARKET?!?!
Apple is known for a great many things, but giving you products that don’t break the bank is not one of them. With premium comes price, and Apple has launched a lot premium devices, and despite their high price tags, they outsell most of the competition. The company, however, is missing out on the growing budget market. Earlier this year, while rumors of the iPhone 7 were still circling about, Apple released the iPad Pro 9.7, and they released the iPhone SE. The iPhone SE was supposed to be the device that will compete for the attention of the penny pinchers. It sold for roughly half as much as the 6s and 6s Plus, but despite its relatively low price point, it sported the exact same internals as its bigger brothers. Saying it in that way really puts into perspective, and should arouse interest. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a success. Well, Apple can stick to what it does best, and launch premium devices at premium prices.
THE FIRST PHONES WITH 6 GB’S OF RAM SURFACE
Last year, the top devices launched with 3 and 4 GB’s of RAM, but in an exciting change of pace, 2016 saw the birth of phone with 6 GB’s of RAM. It seems like a major jump, as that’s getting pretty close to the RAM of capable computers. The first phone to launch with 6 GB’s of RAM is the Xplay 5 from Chinese OEM Vivo. It launched back in march, and other phones followed suit. More notable to us would be the OnePlus 3. This pretty much set the standard for how much RAM flagship phones will have in 2017.
THE IPHONE SEES ITS FIRST EVER SALES DECLINE
It’s hard to believe (or maybe not) that the iPhone, since its launch in 2007, has not seen a sales decline. Well, that was true until early this year. Until then, the iPhone sold more units each year over the previous. That’s an impressive feat, as since then, the smartphone landscape has gotten more and more competitive. Apple has managed to stay on top of the game, but early this year, Apple reported its first sales decline for the iPhone ever. The first quarter of this year, Apple shipped 51.2 million units, which is a large drop from Q1 of 2015 when they shipped 61 million units. Granted, 51.2 million is still a significant amount. iPhone sales have been on decline and still are, but the iPhone 7 has proven to be popular. This just goes to show that not even Apple is invulnerable to sales declines.
HTC MADE A COMEBACK… ALMOST
While we’re all fixating on Samsung’s and Apple’s financial situations, we’d be hard press to forget about HTC’s. The Taiwanese company has been in the red for sometime. It got to the point where they, like Samsung, had that one phone that a lot was riding on: the HTC 10. HTC presented us with a phone that reminded us that they can still produce a kick-ass device. A quality device in many respects, the 10 had potential to start HTC down the road to recovery. It wasn’t as big of a sell as we all had hoped, due its high price tag and limited marketing. Such a spectacular phone shouldn’t go down so unceremoniously, but it did unfortunately, leaving HTC with yet another year of losses.
NINTENDO MAKES ITS FORAY INTO THE MOBILE MARKET
Nintendo has been a super giant in the gaming world for decades, but there’s one territory that it’s yet to conquer, the mobile market. They announced a while back that 2016 was going to be the year that they launch their first mobile app, and they did: Miitomo. A popular app when it launched, Miitomo had you design a Mii, just like you would on a Wii or Wii U system, and have them interact with Mii’s from other people. It took off at the very beginning, but then trailed off not too long after. As sad as that is, it marks a rather important point in the company, as the mobile market is pretty substantial. The same is unfortunately happening to their latest release, Super Mario Run. Earning more money that Pokemon Go, which itself broke records, it shot to the top of the iOS app store, but its steam is running out. This game, by contrast to Miitomo, is not free. The first three levels are free, but in order to have the full game, you’ll need to pay the hefty price of $10. Let’s hope that Nintendo knows what it’s doing.
POKEMON GO LAUNCHES
A lot of great and controversal apps have launched this year, but few have had the sheer impact that Pokemon Go has had. Though the sales record it set was broken by Super Mario run, it still proved to be more than just an app, but a cultural phenomenon. Many people scheduled their lives around Pokemon Go, taking walks around town and scooping up those creatures. The Pokemon Go fever wasn’t without its drawbacks. The game posed a threat to peoples’ safety; I remember hearing the story of the fatal pile up that happened when someone tried to catch Pokemon on a busy highway. Though its popularity waned in the recent months, it still stands as a note worthy part of 2016.
THE SO-CALLED “$4” SMARTPHONE SCANDEL BLOWS UP
2016 has had some great smartphones at low prices, but this is ridiculous! Early this year, the Indian company “Ringing Bells” promised us the world’s cheapest smartphone. Called the Freedom 251, this phone was priced at 251 Indian ruppies, which converts to about 3.76 USD. It seems too good to be true, a phone that you can buy for less than a coffee at Starbucks. As expected, a device such as this warranted some in-depth investigation, and this campaign started falling apart before the phone’s official launch. Questions began to rise about whether it’s even possible to produce a phone that can retail for such a low price and still make a profit. Each device that’s manufactured costs the company a certain amount of money to build, and that cost is certainly over four dollars. Well, as it turns out, a $4 smartphone is indeed too good to be true. The scam that Ringing Bells was pulling was blown wide open. It turns out that their smartphone wasn’t really their smartphone, but poorly rebranded phones by Chinese OEM Adcom. Some handsets actually arrived with the Adcom logo literally covered up with whiteout. Not only that, but Ringing Bells is lucky that they aren’t being sued by Apple, because they ripped their icons right off of iOS. Needless to say that the phone didn’t quite take off, and the company had some extensive damage control after they were found out.
As we enter this new year, we will be leaving behind a truly magnificent one. A great many events helped make 2016 one that not many will forget. What other events in the tech world will you remember? Let me know in the comments below. And one last thing:
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM TECH LEAGUES!!