Mobile commerce has gone from a theoretical possibility to a practical imperative. Marketers don't have to look any further than the statistics from Black Friday to understand that.
But how you reach your customer on their smartphones is an ever changing game. Asian device makers are throwing curve balls with a flexible smartphone from LG headed west in 2014. That's just one of the new technologies — and questions — to consider.
Will Amazon's Fire smartphone finally burn bright? What crowd-funded gadgets could influence the market? And who will challenge Samsung as the dominant manufacturer?
Twist and Flex
Fitness is always a big thing for the New Year, and now your smartphone could be more flexible than you. Recent months have seen the arrival of some cunning new ergonomic design features for smartphones, including the concave Samsung Round and LG's Curve, as well as the dual-screen Yota from Russia.
Now LG is adding the G Flex (listed at $955 on Amazon by various importers), a flexible phone the manufacturer boasts "delivers a more comfortable grip and fit." If the 6" plastic OLED screen with thin glass device proves reliable, then it should make it more comfortable for consumers to stash in their pockets.
It's out now in South Korea with limited availability and is expected to be released in France in February. There is speculation the G Flex will hit the US next year, along with the Curve and Round. That could spur other manufacturers to introduce some innovative options, including Samsung, which is reportedly at work on see-through screens.
What's On the Screen?
While your next device might bend or fold, don't expect too much to change on the screen itself next year. Both Apple and Google just released major updates to iOS and Android, so radical overhauls to either operating system in the near future are unlikely. Similarly, although Windows Phone will continue to be upgraded at pace, Microsoft is unlikely to deviate from that tile design anytime soon.
That leaves us in the realms of feature tweaks and, in the case of Android, more attempts at differentiation from third parties. If that's going to include more annoying glossy style-over-substance marquee features, then count us out. How many of those phone maker or telco preloaded apps do you actually use anyway?
Marketers should expect smarter integration between apps, and improved location-awareness features, as we're seeing with Apple's first steps with iBeacon technology. Apple's iBeacon transmitters use Bluetooth to pinpoint customers' location because GPS doesn't work as well indoors.
Innovation is increasingly driven by the crowd-funded scene. We've already seen smartwatches like Pebble, but coming soon are screenless wristbands to control your phone and a current campaign for smartphone controlled electrical plugs (from Zuli, which is already 50 percent funded after less than a week) to control lights and appliances. Expect plenty more accessories and gadgets as the smartphone increasingly becomes a control for many things in our lives.
New Devices, New Players
With the smartphone market still a source of immense profit, 2014 will see plenty of activity from existing and new players keen to expand their market share or claim a stake.
With persistent rumors that refuse to die down, Amazon will be keen to make an entrance with its own smartphone to follow the success of its Kindle Fire tablets and maturing Fire OS version of Android. If Amazon decides to launch early in the year, it will avoid the heavy hitting major launches later on and could generate plenty of coverage at the International CES in Las Vegas in January, perhaps with some glossy Super Bowl advertisements to get things started.
For those looking for a more independent device, consider Jolla, the Sailfish OS-powered but Android-friendly device from a team of former Nokia workers. It launched in November and should achieve wider availability in 2014.
From Asia, expect the white box makers to continue to up their games and produce more compelling and powerful smartphones to eat into the market share of the major players. Will one of these invest in an operating system that could challenge the incumbents?
Certainly, the leading devices will continue to dominate in 2014. But look below that surface sheen of blanket coverage and the year should get a lot more exciting. Nokia's expected resurgence will put pressure on Android makers to continue evolving, while among the Android camp, competition to be the main challenger to Samsung is growing.