Will phones become the new tablets?

There's a certain narrative that says one of the reasons iPad sales have lagged is that users aren't upgrading because they're satisfied with they have. New features, form factors, and cool new software haven't really moved the needle. Will iPhone take that trajectory?

Today, I'm looking at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy 8 family, and, think hmmm. The new devices are beautiful and have new designs that solve the problem of how to create larger phone screens for smaller phone casings. There are some cool features as well. Bixby isn't as much a competitor to Siri as it is a new UI for interacting with the phone. There's also DeX; the ability to dock a G8 and, have it work with large screens for a pseudo-desktop experience. I was skeptical of how Microsoft's Continuity would work out but maybe Samsung's on to something more useful?

Good enough

Overall, they look like great devices that are differentiated from what's on the market today but... will anyone really care? I sometimes like to ask random people what they think about events like this. I did that with the Galaxy S8 and something interesting happened. Everyone I spoke with said, they didn't.

It's not that they weren't impressed. It was just that they were really happy with what they have, and in an era where users see the full price of phones, almost no one told me they would upgrade.

Granted that's all anecdotal, and, the plural of anecdote isn't data. But it was a pretty good sample. It told me that if people need a new phone they'll consider one, but they're not actively looking to upgrade. And that led me to ask about the next iPhone. The answer, if you're wondering, was the same.

It's also the same answer I've gotten about iPads in the past.

Returns, diminished

There's a certain point when, no matter how many horses you add for the journey from Minsk to Pinsk, you don't get there any faster. Likewise, at a certain point chrome bumpers and, tail fins stop selling cars.

I won't talk about an iPhone 8 or whatever we might or might not see from Apple in September. If Galaxy S8, a fantastic, drool-worthy phone, doesn't compel people to upgrade, I will wonder out loud what it might mean for Apple and iPhone-next.

Given the second law of Gartenberg's Three Laws of Consumer Electronics, it's hard to imagine that people might be suffering from smartphone fatigue. But I wonder, also out loud, if that's not exactly what might be happening?

Even if it is, that doesn't necessarily bode ill for Apple. Apple has gone through many product cycles. When it was clear the iPod had peaked, many said Apple was in trouble. Then came iPhone. So, even if there is a slowdown in iPhone demand, there's much more to Apple than iPhone.

Next bigger things

Few, if anyone, outside Apple knows what the next iPhone will look like. Perhaps we will see something that once again draws lines around city blocks, jams websites, and sends sales figures soaring.

Certainly, Apple's monster marketing and PR machines will do their part in generating excitement and buzz.

But we've already seen the tablet market level off. How does Apple — or Samsung for that matter — stop that from happening to phones?

Michael Gartenberg

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.