Photo: Pixabay

CAPE TOWN – The South Korean giant Samsung has just launched another set of shiny things for its followers. 

However, the only noteworthy new thing to come out of the Samsung stable is a device that could be a trendsetter for the smartphone market, a foldable device, the Galaxy Fold.

The phone has two screens – a smaller one and a larger one – with a hinge in the middle containing multiple interlocking gears. When folded up, the viewable screen measures 4.6 inches (11.68cm). 

Unfolding the device reveals its 7.3-inch display, which is the size of a tablet screen.

While this move by Samsung signals an introduction of a new segment and category in smart device products, as other tech product companies may also create similar devices, it also signals the end of innovation in the smartphone space. 

Gartner recently released research that showed global smartphone sales stalling, particularly in the fourth quarter of 2018, with growth of just 0.1 percent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped. 

Gartner also said that Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 percent) since the first quarter of 2016.

This points to an industry that is going nowhere and is in need of serious innovation. Consumers are getting tired of renewing devices every six months. 

The recently launched products highlight a need for consumers to rethink their acquisition of these devices. Designers of these products also need a different design approach.

Does society really need devices that are introduced by these tech giants?

Is there a need for different better products?

Tech giants that produce digital devices need to bring to an end the planned obsolescence model. The practice is to design a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete. Society is crying for products with a longer lifespan. Our environment demands that less is produced for the sake of our planet.

Tech giants that will embrace this principle will last longer. This is perhaps a gap that exists in the digital device market.

Secondly, tech giants need to do something fundamental about the abuse of user privacy through digital devices. 

There’s a need now for devices that will not track every movement and activity of their users. Failure to do this will see more conscious device users moving back to using dumb phones such as Nokia 3310 and others.

A digital device that will truly respect the privacy of its users will be preferred from current devices.

Thirdly, digital devices need to be designed in such a way that they don’t distract their users. Although this should be a personal matter, the severity of this challenge, considering accidents caused by distracted drivers, calls for a design overhaul to enable digital devices to distract users less.

Lastly, devices need to be less expensive if this market is to survive. Perhaps the smart device market needs to start embracing the subscription model. Imagine if a consumer were to acquire a device once and have the ability to change its parts when necessary and according to the user needs. Google tried this model through Project Ara. 

Project Ara was a concept design that reimagined the smartphone as a series of smaller, Lego-style bricks that could be attached, rearranged and swopped out in seconds. This approach was based on high-end PC market models, where various aspects of the computer can be changed endlessly instead of replacing the whole package every couple of years or months.

Although Google suspended this project, it’s time the digital device industry revisits this model. The time is right for the smartphone to be truly reimagined.

Wesley Diphoko is the founder of Kaya Labs and a regular commentator every Friday on SAfm HomeRun show Tech feature. Follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko. The views expressed here are his own. 

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