back to article Demand for smartphones is drying up

Demand for smartphones is fading amid households' fears about rising inflation and other monetary pressures, although brands including Samsung and Apple are weathering the economic storm. Global shipments into the channel declined 9 percent in calendar Q2, according to preliminary data from market researcher Canalys, …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Innovation

    The PC industry is also reporting declining sales

    Because there is no innovation. My desktop PC is due an upgrade, but there is nothing to upgrade it to. New products only offer cosmetic performance gains, so there is no point.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Innovation

      Quite. Does my phone still work? Yep. Has the maker manage to install enough software 'upgrades' to slow it to unusability? Nope. Then why the hell would I change it?

      1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        Re: Innovation

        "Has the maker manage to install enough software 'upgrades' to slow it to unusability?"

        So with you on that one. My latest phone is getting "updates" every few weeks and with each one, the phone gets noticeably slower and more irritating to use. They're all described as "security" updates but I've not found a way to find out exactly what security updates (if any) it's installing and hence whether I need them. Also not found a way of actually stopping them from happening either.

        I'm all for genuine security updates, but only if that's what they actually are and don't cripple the device in the process.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Innovation

          Many of them may be mitigations against various side channels attacks we've learned about from El Reg over recent years. Most of the mitigations seem to be actions which slow systems down, eg affecting predictive branching etc.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Innovation

      There was also a huge increase in sales at the start of everyone needing to work from home. It's going to take a few years for that to work its way through.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge

        Re: Innovation

        "...There was also a huge increase in sales at the start of everyone needing to work from home. It's going to take a few years for that to work its way through..."

        I don't understand why so many of these companies struggle to wrap their heads around this.

        A brand new PC/laptop bought two years ago is still fine for the vast majority of use cases and not even Microsoft's attempts to force a purchase for Windows 11 will be particularly successful for another 3 years when Win 10 support ends.

        Likewise phones - Whenever I have to buy a phone, I tend to go for a refurbished n-1.5 - by which I mean I get one of the previous generation just as/before the next one comes out. It tends to save a fortune and I get plenty of life out of them for e.g. updates.

        And when I look at what has changed between those models? Naff all. It has more cameras. Uhuh. It has a brighter/bigger screen - ok so it also has a bigger battery that lasts just as short or even less time than mine? Gotcha. Oh we moved the fingerprint sensor. Ok, sure.

        None of it is revolutionary. It's not even evolutionary, really.

        And to top it off, wages are falling in real terms at their fastest rate in 40 years. The cost of living is spiraling. Is anyone with half a brain surprised that things like the latest shiny are the first to take a hit when people have to prioritise their spending?

    3. Grogan

      Re: Innovation

      I future proofed this system when I built it in 2010... a good Nehalem based Corei7, a deluxe motherboard with solid state capacitors, a big futhermucking Antec case, expensive 1000W power supply etc.

      I'm on my third graphics card in this system, but everything else has been just fine. I've got SSD's now too (and one NVME with a PCI-E -> M.2 adapter card)

      The only problem I'm running into now is inconsiderate game devs letting AVX instructions creep in. It's only a problem for that, because commercial games are the only things I can't compile. However, it's relatively rare, because most game devs don't want to limit their customers. There are still a lot of CPUs out there that don't have, or don't implement those instructions well.

      It's not like the 90's when you had to upgrade very year (when hardware advances were significant). Smart phones are now the same. I use the same one for as many years as I can... I hate having to get a new phone.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      It is a different reason for PCs

      There was a big spike in pandemic related PC purchases due to work at home. Companies with desktops needed to issue laptops for their employees, schools were buying Chromebooks. The decline is a reversion to mean with the slowly lengthening replacement cycle due to software needs growing much more slowly than they used to (i.e. it is no longer the days when you had to get a new PC if you wanted to run the newer version of Windows, because it was a pig on older hardware)

      Falling phone sales are more about the economy as the article claimed. If money is a bit tight then you are more likely to decide that a phone that's still working fine can wait another year instead of getting replaced. I'm going to replace my 11 Pro Max this fall with a 14 Pro Max, but if money was tight I could easily put that off another year since it is working fine and the original battery still holds plenty of charge.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: It is a different reason for PCs

        Yep - I'm holding off replacing the wife's iDevice 8 until the iDevice 7 or 6 starts to fail in the hands of the offspring. The flexibility it allows is one of the major reasons I decoupled telephony contracts from telephony hardware a long while ago.

        We used to upgrade (and pass down) one phone every 18 ish months, but it's been a little over two years since the last upgrade (which was feature driven), and no real sign of needing to upgrade any time soon - even then I might also just opt to replace the battery in the 6 (assuming that's what starts to give out).

    5. Sampler

      Re: Innovation

      Same problem with phones, my Note 20 wasn't all that much a change from my Note 8 (in fact, the camera worked better on the 8 imho) but I begrudgingly upgraded because the 8 wouldn't go a whole day without charging anymore.

      Now the 20's in the same boat and, there's nothing to buy. All the phones are worse than my current one for astronomical prices - the S22 Ultra (which they might've well called the Note 22 given not only does it look like more like the Note 20 then it does a regular S22, they even have "A Note-worthy new look" as a tagline on their website) is no better in any reasonable metric than the phone I have, worse given they've removed the SD card slot.

      Chips may be faster and ram higher, but that's all rather moot given the Note 8's perfectly cromulent at any task I may through at a mobile phone.

      It's a stagnating market way before people's monetary pressures were factored in, now they're just being forced to make a decision rather than picking up the new shiny shiny out of habit.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Innovation

        My Note 8 is still often at better than 70% at the end of the day, though I don't do social media so it doesn't get a lot of non-telephonic use.

        1. a pressbutton

          Re: Innovation

          Note 8 owner too, battery not what it used to be too.

          Tempted by S22/23 ultra, but from what I understand the camera, whilst miles ahead on headline specs, is not actually much better in real life.

          I moved on from a note 4 because the Note 8 camera was much better.

          So may not do anything other than get the battery replaced in a year's time.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Innovation

            To be honest, in spite of the theoretical ability of the camera, I really don't see the mobile as a camera platform. It's such an unergonomic way of taking a picture... quick snap, yes, but beyond that?

            Then again, my preferred platform is a 4x5 film camera with manual adjustment for everything...

            1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

              Re: a 4x5 film camera with manual adjustment for everything...

              The art of taking a photo. I know what you mean.

              Unfortunately, lugging an SLR with (always) the wrong (heavy) lens is something that becomes less appealing as time marches on. Funnily enough the camera my father had (which I still have) - an Ensign Selfix - was a lot lighter, but in those days the solution to correct framing was not to plug in a different lens but to either get closer, or move further away.

      2. Snake Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Innovation

        As a (forced) recent buyer of a new cellphone (my cell company merged with another and shut down their own legacy system), I'd say the downturn in cellphone sales is a *combination* of both lack of innovation and perceived value.

        The 2 major cellphone manufacturers, Samsung and Apple, are putting the vast majority of their sales & development energies into $1000 / £1000+ high-end cellphones. And not everyone WANTS or can spend $1000+ on a new cellphone every, say, 3 years.

        I certainly didn't, I simply don't see a good ROI there. But those same cellphone companies utterly and completely FAIL on good alternatives (here in the U.S., anyway) - from the $1000+ tier, in which you have many choices, the next tier with as many choices is...the $400 or so bottom tier. I was offered at least 6 carrier-rebated items at that tier but none had the features and build quality I needed.

        So what about the middle, the $600 tier? Crickets. 1 current choice from the carrier(s), with "performance" that doesn't justify the cost (the Samsung A53, which not much better performance than the lower-cost A32).

        I was pissed. The company was making me upgrade, shutting down compatibility with my current phone that I was happy with (LG V30+ 128GB) but yet their offers in replacements...sucked.

        After much comparison shopping and hand wringing over the poor choices, I bought an open-box LG Wing off eBay (take THAT, TMob!)

        With the duopoly of Samsung and Apple giving us "choices", most of us see no value in updating to the latest and "greatest" because they either really aren't all that different, blatantly overpriced, or both. If these idiot companies would make mid-priced models with the features *most* people want, forget 16 cameras et al, I think more people would be willing to make purchases. But not at $1200 for something great, or $400 for basic, with not much enticing in-between.

  2. trevorde Silver badge

    Meanwhile at Apple...

    Tim Cook: iPhone sales are down. What can we do?

    Marketing1: A new 'innovative' colour!

    Marketing2: Remove the charger!

    Marketing3: Remove a port!

    Marketing4: Increase the price!

    Tim Cook: Great work! Make it so.

    1. Lis

      Re: Meanwhile at Apple... in a different universe perhaps

      @trevorde

      Did you actually read the article?

      Fifth paragraph...

      "It was only a few years back that Samsung and Apple were clamoring to shore their mid-range line-up. Both companies fared relatively well during Q2, with Samsung boosting market share to 21 percent from 18 percent and Apple taking 17 percent of total sales, up from 14 percent."

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Meanwhile at Apple... in a different universe perhaps

        There is nothing in the article to indicate Samsung or Apple have lost market share; just that the total market is shrinking...

        I suspect both Apple and Samsung's recent market share gains are mostly due to the exit of Huawei.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Meanwhile at Apple... in a different universe perhaps

          Exactly. Being a big fish in a big but shrinking pond means their relative growth, ie bigger share of the pond, doesn't mean to say their absolute growth is the same in percentage terms.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Meanwhile at Apple... in a different universe perhaps

            Apple Silicon MacBooks are growing sales since they appeared with a genuine all day battery.

  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    I'm sure that other macro factors are relevant, but I wonder how much of this isn't so much "demand for smartphones is drying up" and rather "demand for the smartphones on offer is drying up"

    My old phone was getting a bit past it...basically the built-in, bit-of-a-pain-to-replace battery was ready for retirement. The shop was chock full of models, but hardly any (to be honest none - I ended up with a bit of a compromise purchase) fitted the bill for my requirements. I don't consider my requirements to be that outlandish - I want something that fits in my pocket, allows me to send/receive calls & texts, emailing, basic internet and app use.

    Do I want a massive phone with a display only marginally smaller than my first portable TV set? No. So that's the vast majority off the table then, as so many of them just wouldn't fit in my pocket. Does nobody in mobile phone design consider trouser compatibility?

    Do I want a high-performing camera? No, because I have a proper camera

    Do I want tons of processing power and memory capable of running fancy modern games? No, because I'm not a gamer and even if I was I think I'd want a proper gaming device.

    And so on.

    In the end I got something - like I said, a compromise - but I know that some of the money I was parting with went on features that I didn't like and/or didn't need. I'd already delayed going shopping for a new phone for as long as I could - my service provider had been bombarding me with offers to renew for nearly a year before my old phone was finally as the death-rattle stage and I just had to go shopping.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      a simple phone?

      no you can't have that it's all about that data plan $$$

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "my service provider had been bombarding me with offers to renew for nearly a year"

      Are you on a leasing contract? Or is just that you've paid off the "loan" and instead of going SIM only, they wanted to tag you for an "upgrade" to a new "loan"?

  4. fishman

    Good enough

    It doesn't take that new of a smartphone if all you do is surf the web, text, make phone calls, and take some pictures. After almost 5 years the battery is still in good shape - I try to keep from going below 30% very often, and never below 20%.

    1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: Good enough

      I went on holiday for a week with my phone. Didn't charge it at all. Came back and the battery was still at around 60%. I see no reason to upgrade it.

  5. WolfFan Silver badge

    The telcos are upset

    I have an ‘older’ phone; it has 4G, not 5G. It’s paid for, the battery is doing well, it works well enough for me. T-mob wants everyone to go to 5G. They’re pushing hard to replace my working phone, an iPhone SE 2nd gen, with a 5G capable phone, preferably a iPhone 13. There’s a reason why I got the SE in the first place. Hint: other phones are too damn big and cost too damn much. I might go with a SE 3rd gen, basically iPhone 12 guts in a smaller, cheaper, case, but not until this phone has problems. By which time there’ll probably be a SE 4th, or even 5th, gen. Or maybe sense will return to the cell phone industry and there might be a flagship phone actually smaller than a set of encyclopedias. I’m not holding my breath waiting.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: The telcos are upset

      The benefits of 5G were for the network operator, not for the subscriber. So the networks will be wanting people to upgrade to 5G handsets that offer nothing substantive over existing 4G handsets...

      1. Sampler

        Re: The telcos are upset

        5G's remarkedly pointless from an average user perspective. My airtime provider wanted to up my contract by 20% using the current financial pressures as an excuse.

        I gave them the option to not, they declined, so whilst I was on the support chat I found an alternative supplier (who uses their network, ironically) that for the same price as my old sim only contract gave me 50% more data allowance (that I won't use, just like I didn't use three quarters of my old data allowance) and the only caveat is they're 4g not 5g and ... didn't notice a difference.

        Been on this network for a couple of weeks, websites load as fast, apps operate as they did, even streaming 4k video, not a problem.

        Actually, that's a lie, whenever I got to a busy train station where the network's oversubscribed it used to drop out, doesn't anymore... what was 5g supposed to fix again?

        1. Warm Braw Silver badge

          Re: The telcos are upset

          5G's remarkedly pointless from an average user perspective

          I have a cheap (£150ish) 5G phone and in my present location I get well over 100Mb/s download speeds which is sufficient from my perspective to dispense with wired broadband.

          However, I accept that when 5G is widely used, we'll be back to the same congested backhaul that previously limited 4G to around 5Mb/s.

          In the meantime, I'm finding it worth the modest investment.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: The telcos are upset

          With 4G I used to lose service at a large event, because the capacity of the local cells was saturated. It happened often, no data, and sometimes even voice calls failed. I could try going in and out of airplane mode and get a connection but not for long.

          At the most recent Hyde Park gigs I had absolutely no problem on 5G.

    2. Richard Jones 1
      WTF?

      Re: The telcos are upset

      I have a handset that is said to be 5G ready, but will EE offer 5G where I live and go? They struggle to provide 4G and reliable voice unless I use Wi-Fi. My handset is about a year old, I became fed up with my marginal Motorola after years of use, any slower, and it would have gone backwards. All I did was rare texts and voice calls with an activity monitor thrown in. Now there are verification codes for doing almost everything, Current mobiles get cluttered up with applications to support this disruption, but once a handset can meet that need, what else is there? Mobile internet is dreadful, while I block most of the stupid advertising dross on my desktop, I have not ventured into the wacky-races field of doing so with the mobile. So, every attempt to use the internet is shut down by adverts for junk no one in their right mind could ever want.

  6. Mike 137 Silver badge

    This fall in demand is causing some sleepless nights

    And we, the users, should worry?

    Who's all this tech really for - us or the vendor?

    Sorry - stupid question...

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge

    There's nothing to buy

    They're removing 3.5mm jacks, there's no removable batteries or SD cards any more, the designs are worse, and the phones are more expensive.

    For example, the Pixel 5a I was forced to buy since 4G was discontinued has no bezel, so simply holding it opens apps on the edges of the display. I have to put it in a case just to avoid that. That's a serious misdesign.

    Why would I buy one?

    1. Marty McFly Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: There's nothing to buy

      Ah, but there is the long game. Batteries are consumable items. When it goes tango-uniform, the majority of users will opt for a new phone. So what if users don't buy a new phone this quarter, they will eventually be back.

      You didn't really think the non-removable, non-user replaceable batteries were for your own good, did you?

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: There's nothing to buy

      For example, the Pixel 5a I was forced to buy since 4G was discontinued has no bezel, so simply holding it opens apps on the edges of the display.

      If you open an app by mistake, then to dismiss it you only need to click the back button handily located at...errr...OK....as you were.

    3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: There's nothing to buy

      Also modern phones have call recording disabled, so if you want to have evidence against scammers or you want to record your GP for future reference or even your elderly parent so you have a memory of them, you are out of luck with new phones.

      Google ensured that call recording APIs are blocked off.

      You can still try to import a phone from places like Thailand or faff with flashing different region firmware, but it's just a matter of time it will be gone there too after forced "security update".

      I wonder what kind of deal with scammers Google made?

      It's most common with car insurance. What the salesman tells you about your chosen policy and what is in the documents they sent you after you agree can be quite different. Then they take non-refundable fee if you want to cancel. Call recording proving the scam is crucial in getting all your money back.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: There's nothing to buy

        Put it on speakerphone and record using another phone.

  8. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    The ride is over

    New cell phones continue to be evolutionary, they are no longer revolutionary.

    More memory, faster CPU, more pixels, more storage, different cell signals, more sizes, are all evolutionary changes. But they are hardly game changers.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The ride is over

      Apart from foldable phones, which have their own issues (I'd quite like one actually), I'm not sure what is even in the pipeline in terms of revolutionary new technology. There's often signs of Things To Come in the tech press, but nothing I'm seeing so far that would do much, if anything for the mobile phone.

      I can imagine plenty of SF-like changes/options/upgrade that might be considered revolutionary, but nothing actually feasible of possible yet :-)

  9. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

    Consumerism is down, good.

    Smartphone sales are down, good.

    Ok. So not good if it really is happening because the recession means people can't afford them, but that's a different problem. I'll bet that people aren't throwing their phones away and saying "I'll do without one", rather it's people holding onto older models for longer before upgrading. In which case, good, that we're consuming fewer resources.

    Maybe, just maybe, the big manufacturers will move away from the continual growth model they need to cling to. As if!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Consumerism is down, good.

      The continual growth model is forced on them by the way the stock market works. Grow or die. And don't just grow. Grow based on stock market expectations. Grow slowly, or worse, level off while remaining a profitable and successful business, and you will die on the stock market. Borrowing cost will skyrocket and the fair-weather shareholders will sell up in droves.

      We frequently see reports here on El Reg of tech company share prices falling because they didn't achieve the n% growth predicted by the "anal-ysts" and instead grew by some slightly smaller amount.

  10. 3arn0wl

    Peak Phone

    After 15 years are we finally seeing peak phone?

    Consumers realizing that the hyperbole is actually far more spec than they need? A low end phone really is sufficient for what most people use their devices for (low end being the high end of not so long ago). The other alternative of course, is to buy a second hand device and flash a decent OS, like UBports onto it.

    - I guess we'll begin to see the contraction of OEMs producing devices, because the profitability won't be there.

    - Perhaps we'll see those who stay the course start to listen to what the consumer actually wants - small form factor is often cited, and the option to replace the battery.

    - Maybe mainstream manufacturers will even look to what FairPhone or Shift are doing on repairability... One can hope.

    Otherwise manufacturers are going to have to look to software, and start repurposing the smartphone as the computer in your pocket that it is.

    1. Andy 68

      Re: Peak Phone

      What I think you and pretty much all the commentards above are missing, is that we all are no longer the target audience.

      We have two post-18 teenagers in the house, and they absolutely do want the bigger screen and faster processors for gaming and watching TikTok. They do want better cameras for selfies to be uploaded straight to IG/TikTok. They want data plans that will let them stream spotify to them constantly wherever they are.

      They don't use SMS, email or the telephone - ever.

      And they're going to be around for a lot longer than most of us.

      1. 3arn0wl

        Re: Peak Phone

        You make a good point about the functionality that different demographics generally want.

        But in stead of OEMs targeting different sectors, what we've seen is the convergence of design and feature set : fierce competition has produced less distinctive choices, and compromises have perhaps led to dissatisfaction. Worse still, maybe there's an existential fear among manufacturers about doing anything beyond the received convention - putting paid to any revolution.

  11. pip25
    Unhappy

    Nothing on offer interests me

    I miss the days when I spent my time looking at all the cool new PC parts and phones on sale, each one different and interesting in its own way, and dreaming of buying them (pocket money made that a no-go) or at least asking my parents to buy one for my birthday.

    Now I have my own income, I could afford to buy one of these every once in a while, but... there is no point. All phones look the same, heck, they often have LESS features than previous generations. I felt no need to change anything in my desktop PC for the past 4 years. First world problems, I know, but the little kid in me is quite disappointed.

  12. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    I wonder how much of this is due to store closures

    In the past whenever I or my son wanted/needed an upgrade a trip to the local EE shop would sort that out. The staff would always give what appeared to me to be honest advice, and they would deal with the hassles of communicating information to the mother-ship. There was never the sense that you were being rushed into a purchase, and it seems there were "regulars" who were passers-by would go in for a chat about "what's new".

    Ah, but Head Office never see that side of the coin do they? They only look at how much revenue each salesperson brings in, and that's it.

    Now that shop has closed. Not looking forward to the agony of going through the upgrade hoops by phone next time I need to. I may be old fashioned in that respect, but how many sales are lost because the walk-in opportunities are reducing?

  13. Ken G Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    They just work

    Like washing machines or laptops. It mattered a while ago but any phone from 5 years ago (dependent on security patches, you might want to install a custom ROM) will run anything you need day to day, as will the cheapest android on the market.

  14. Pirate Dave Silver badge
    Pirate

    Yay!

    Does this mean flip phones will come back into vogue? I'd love that, as I hate, hate, HATE smartphones (which seem more dumb than smart), but there aren't any decent flip phone models out anymore since there's very little market for them. If they came back in style, maybe we'd get some good models with decent cameras and screens.

  15. Zack Mollusc

    I'm just waiting for the contributions

    I am eager to buy a new, fancy mobile phone and will gladly pay £2000 for a really really shiny one.

    I am just waiting for the rest of the team to come up with their share of the money. You know, the phone manufacturer who gets all the telemetry, the phone company who snoop everything I do, the websites who track and profile me. Those guys.

    Let's face it, they are the ones who benefit from all the clock cycles and bandwidth, so only fair they should contribute.

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