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Mobile Review 2012: Smartphones Become Boring in a Tablet World

lumia620_thumb.jpgOne thing became pretty clear in 2012, for all the bluster and hype over new features, smartphones are now a mature technology, leaving the seemingly ever-resizeable tablet to take up the slack.

Not So Smart In 2012

If you kept an eye on one of the many smartphone launches this year, such as Samsung's Galaxy S3, the iPhone 5 or Windows Phone 8 devices you will definitely have seen a reduction in the 'wow' factor. Sure, they were pretty-looking with new materials, powerful and feature-packed, but if the highlight of  a launch was a slightly bigger screen, some extra power (that few will ever use) or a Maps app, then we're definitely looking at the maturing of the technology. 

Sure, 2013 could bring us bendy or see-through phones, but they reek of gimmicks. Instead we're in the upgrade phase (imagine early noughties PCs with their ever more powerful Intel CPUs, a better graphics card and more RAM) where the majority of buyers will pick up a new phone every year or two in line with their contract to play nicely with the latest OS update, and the makers are now looking at spreading their device range around the world to find new customers. 

Upgrade at Your Peril

While the headline grabbing market-leading devices can still sell millions on launch, for the 'other' devices out there, makers are seeing diminishing returns, so we've recently seen Dell drop out of the Android market and big names like Sony becoming increasingly niche. 

Windows Phone 7 and 8 at least brought us a shiny new interface to play with, and the coming launch of the Nokia Lumia 620 could well bring Microsoft back up the rankings, but for all the upgrades, there was little in the Jelly Bean or iOS 6.0 updates that would get any whoops of joy when they were unveiled. 

Instead they showed the various perils of the constant upgrade push. Millions of Android users still can't upgrade to the latest OS, leaving then angry and frustrated. While Apple put a major ding in its halo with the less than spectacular Map apps. All of which showed that these giant companies need each other more than they like to think, and that their push for progress isn't necessarily for the best. 

Tales of the Tablet

Where 2012 really shone was in the monstrous rise of the tablet. Previously sold as a luxury item (which really worked out badly for RIM, HP and others), Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus soon brought it down to the masses, and sales and content consumption have rocketed. 

All players have been tinkering with product sizing, like couture dressmakers, so we've seen the Galaxy Note growing, the iPad shrinking and everyone else rounding out their offerings to cover all the bases. And, while Surface devices might not have taken off quite as Microsoft would have liked, with wider availability next year and true Windows 8 devices, expect big things from them. 

Despite all this effort, nothing could shift the iPad from the top of the tablet-buyer's conciousness, or the sales charts, but the volume and availability of rivals will see Apple swamped in 2013, and with the cookie-cutter iPad 4 update, Apple really does look like it has run out of ideas, for now at least. 

Raise A Glass

The end of the year sees BlackBerry almost ready to make its comeback with BB10 and new devices, but with new and updated phone models arriving from all makers, and being superseded at such a rate, it is almost hard to think of those that had an impact beyond the big names. 

LG's Optimus G was a smart package from South Korea's almost forgotten phone maker, while the HTX One X+ (or HTC Windows Phone 8X) showed that China can compete on quality and features.

But, if we had to pick a phone of the year, it would be the Nokia Lumia 620 (even if you can't buy it just yet) as the phone that could easily bring Windows Phone 8 to any consumer's attention, by dint of being the perfect size and price, ahead of many of its over-priced and over-powered rivals. 

 
 
 
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