1. Wes Boudville's Avatar
    Game over for smartphones? There are ominous implications for tech. Figure 1 is the patent applications received by the US Patent and Trademark Office and the patents granted, with the phrase mobile device. From 2005 to 2015. Each year for a 12 month period, from 19 June of the previous year to 18 June of the labelled year.

    Figure 2 is for smartphone. Smaller numbers than Figure 1 because a smartphone is a type of mobile device.

    The figures are consistent. First, applications peak in 2013 for mobile device and in 2014 for smartphone. Now see patents. The falloff is far more dramatic, especially in 2015, where there was an utter collapse. Why?

    Applications are a leading indicator. Patents are trailing. When you file an application, it is usually published 18 months later. In the figures, the bins for the applications are when they were published. Then several months are spent arguing between you and the Examiner. This can take years to resolve; to get a patent or drop it. Roughly, when you look at a red patent bar in the figures, it corresponds to the blue application bars from the current and previous years.

    The big growth in smartphone applications in 2012 to 2014 reflects the rise in the global market for smartphones. The levelling off in 2014 means exhaustion of new ideas.

    Even optimism saturates! Harder and harder to find new patentable ideas.

    Now look at 2015 for smartphones compared to 2014. Just that tells you that the PTO is finding far fewer new ideas worthy of patents. Even more striking compared to the applications for 2014 and 2015, from which most of those patents presumably came from.

    A bitter harvest.

    Most recent applications are redundant. Filed by companies who did not search sufficiently the prior art. Or who were simply casting around with trivial me-too ideas and hoping for the best. Not surprising. Every technology saturates. Each defines a space of buildable ideas and that space gets filled if the technology is valuable enough.

    The future? At the business level, the market for smartphones is maturing in North America, east Asia and Europe. At the patent level is a slowing of innovation. Which is not necessarily bad. We may be moving to kaizen, like autos. Profits can still be made. Or we just have to wait for another disruptive event.

    [The author is an inventor, with 6 US patents and 9 pendings on cellphones.]
    07-05-2015 03:01 AM
  2. Angry_Mushroom's Avatar
    I don't think it's slowing down at all. Also the comparison to cars isn't not quite correct. Even the auto industry is experiencing quite a lot of innovation on a yearly basis as the entire industries moves forward to tackle the challenges of new standards and the ever moving goal of safety and fuel economy.

    Same with mobile phones. There will always be a drive forward to meet new standards as well as achieve new heights for battery life, convenience, and features. Samsung's move to finFET is quite a radical change and a major innovation in terms of chip manufacturing. Increasingly high resolution panels manage incredible viewing experiences while continually pushing for better color, brighter back lights, and occasionally at a reduced energy consumption. Just because patents are slowing, doesn't mean innovation is slowing. Old tech will find new ways to impress people, new gimmicks will change perceptions.
    Laura Knotek likes this.
    07-06-2015 11:58 PM
  3. LeoRex's Avatar
    Well, there is a clear slowdown. Its not that the market is dying or anything, it just matured. The segment didn't really exist until the late 2000's.... and it took a bit for the hardware manufacturers to transition to making mobile-class stuff. Mobile processors of a few years ago are dogs compared to the ones today, which have gotten extremely powerful. Back in the day, people could see big improvements in each generation of phone... now, well, its like asking someone to tell the different between going 220mph and 200.

    And the same can be said for other components. Displays are extremely sharp now as they move into QHD resolution. Yes, we might see higher, but people won't be able to see any difference. And cameras are starting to pretty much approach the best you'll be able to get out of the size sensors used... phones like the S6 and G4 can stand toe to toe with the point and shoot cameras of the world.

    So hardware innovation is tailing off a bit... there are gains to be made, but we've alreasy passed the growth stage.

    There's still a lot of room in software and those secondary bits. The Now On Tap stuff looks extremely cool, I'm really excited to get my hands on it this fall.
    Laura Knotek likes this.
    07-08-2015 10:17 AM
  4. anon(5384869)'s Avatar
    I think you hit a good point here. Hardware is no longer the big focus (outside of design which is a matter of taste but a definite differentiator) but the focus is now on what the hardware can do. Performance optimization so the phone doesn't become obsolete so quickly, efficiency for battery endurance (which is one hardware component that could use some more maturity), and features/integration with services. These are all software solutions that integrate already mature hardware, and that's where the battle is now.

    Sent via my DROID Turbo via Mr. Universe's Signal...because you can't stop the signal!
    07-08-2015 01:45 PM
  5. syspry's Avatar
    In a hardware sense, yes absolutely. Phones really haven't become any faster since late 2013. This is the old PC incremental upgrade game all over again translated into mobile. If you did a blind taste test of the S6 or the 6 Plus against any well made phone that came out 18 months earlier you wouldn't be able to see a difference with the human eye. I could comfortably pick up any moto X, M8, Xperia Z1/Z2 and not be able to tell if a 2015 android was running any faster without running benchmarks
    Laura Knotek likes this.
    07-09-2015 09:37 PM
  6. mohit9206's Avatar
    There are still much improvements to be made in battery life, camera quality, build quality, etc. And new technologies will keep coming like flexible/bendable displays, software improvements, 4K displays, OLED displays, solar charging, etc.
    Laura Knotek likes this.
    07-10-2015 05:17 AM
  7. syspry's Avatar
    Also ask yourself this question - how many of the apps you're using today have become more demanding on resources than they were 2 years ago. Hardly any really. CPU makers don't like you thinking this way.
    07-10-2015 11:34 AM
  8. dogglebird's Avatar
    I got my first smartphone, an iPhone 4, about six years ago when my daughter assured me it would change my life. It did in a few respects, i.e. I now had Internet access even when I was away from a computer, and could listen to the radio pretty much anywhere - things I couldn't do previously. Great! However, my wife grumbled that I hardly used the phone for anything else.

    The iPhone started to become faulty about four months ago and so I bought a Galaxy S6. Bigger screen. Faster. Great! However, I did a bit of an audit yesterday on my usage of the phone compared to its features, and compared to how my daughter uses hers, and I was a bit shocked. Again, aside from the occasional phone call and text, it's for my email and Internet when I am away from a computer screen, like when I'm waking up in the morning, or to listen to the radio while I'm shaving. Occasionally, I'll use the calendar, the calculator. Very rarely, I will use the maps. That's it. It has a camera on it - but I never use it, I'm not sure how it works and I really don't care as I hardly ever take photos. What is there to photograph in my daily life? I'm off to Rome in a few weeks as a tourist and I'll be taking a proper camera with me for that, and not rely on a mobile telephone to record my visit. I don't play games - ever. I am struggling to think of any features, apps etc that are worth the bother of installing and bothering to learn how to use.

    What do I want in a smartphone? I want it to be childishly simple to use because I am not interested in these gadgets and have better things to do than have to learn a whole lot of stuff in terms of how to make them work. I want the sound quality to be clear when I am receiving a call, and I want it to be a reliable, robust and durable handset. That's about it. I couldn't care less how good the pictures on it are, or how many handy features it has, what it is capable of doing that the previous model couldn't and so on.

    I do somewhat suspect that people like me are completely forgotten in the design of mobile phones.
    07-10-2015 03:35 PM
  9. syspry's Avatar
    You're probably right. The problem with using a dedicated camera for better photos is something a lot of people are catching on to - you don't have your camera with you everywhere you go and if one of life's unexpected moments comes up randomly that you'd really love a nice quality photo of, that means you'll be using your phone. I totally respect your wish for a well made and reliable smartphone, and I share that opinion
    07-10-2015 09:56 PM

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