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This year will be iterative and boring for smartphone upgrades

by Brandon Russell | February 17, 2018

The smartphone in my pocket, an iPhone X in Space Gray, and my favorite phone of 2017, is the phone I intend on keeping for the foreseeable future, maybe even through 2019. That’s because nothing coming out in the next several months seems all that exciting. This year will likely be filled with iterative upgrades as companies search for the next big innovation.

Which is funny, because we felt the opposite at the beginning of last year. When 2017 arrived, it signaled a new era, one that would usher in edge-to-edge displays, more powerful processors, and advanced biometrics. The year concluded with devices like the Galaxy S8, Pixel 2 XL, and iPhone X, three of the best phones ever.

This year is shaping up to be far less exciting. Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S9 is a good example of why. Although the device hasn’t officially been announced, we pretty much know what to expect, and it sounds like nothing more than a minor improvement over last year’s model.

That’s not to say the Galaxy S9 won’t be a good phone. Reports suggest Samsung will address some of our biggest complaints about the Galaxy S8, while introducing some fancy facial scanning features. The design is also expected to undergo a few tweaks, highlighted by big camera improvements. It’s very possible—and very likely—the Galaxy S9 will be Samsung’s best phone yet.

What more can we ask for?

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And, yet, I’m feeling completely underwhelmed. There doesn’t appear to be enough for a Galaxy S8 owners to upgrade. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend a Pixel 2 XL owner go rushing headfirst into Samsung’s ecosystem. Based on what we know, the Galaxy S9 just doesn’t sound like a big enough leap forward.

It’s not Samsung that’s at fault. The company is reportedly on the cusp of a breakthrough of epic proportions, so something big could be on the horizon. There’s just going to be a lull until that gets here. The imminent drought of innovation is likely going to reverberate across the industry as the technology of the future incubates. The only major addition that could be somewhat exciting this year is in-display fingerprint sensors, and even then the technology’s arrival elicits an indifferent shrug.

I’ll place some of the blame on Apple’s iPhone X for my current state of mind. The device feels like such a big leap into the future, with its gesture navigation and FaceID, that everything else seems so dull. (Except for the Pixel 2; I love that device.) Apple successfully reinvented the iPhone by making it feel different, rather than sticking to the same formula. Why do you think it’s spawning so many copycats?

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What phone this year will feel like it’s from the future? As far as we know, the releases we’ll see over the new several months will simply iterate on what we saw in 2017. Spec upgrades, tweaked designs, improved cameras, etc. All good stuff, but not enough to feel significantly different compared to what came in 2017.

I’d love to be proven wrong. I’m looking forward to seeing what Google comes up with next, and I’m hopeful Essential fulfill its potential. You and I both know the majority of phones we see this year will be excellent. But what will make them truly exciting?

As the devices we pine after become more expensive, companies will need to figure out how to justify their cost beyond the expected inclusion of more powerful specs. We’ll get a better sense of how this year will shake out once the Galaxy S9 is announced later this month.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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