Can the new iPhone rekindle our obsession with smartphones?

Ernest Doku
Apple Unveils iPhone 6
We’re now in a much wider-thinking mobile landscape, which can only be good news for the market at large (Source: Getty)

As Apple prepares to launch the latest iteration of its flagship series, many a long-time iPhone devotee will undoubtedly get dewy-eyed about the device’s more innovative salad days.

As this is the 10th anniversary of the handset, commentators are expecting a Hail Mary from Apple in an attempt to return the device to the top of the heap in terms of innovation after a relatively lukewarm critical (yet commercially rapturous) reaction to last year’s iPhone 7.

Rumoured additions include wireless charging, facial recognition and a 3D vertical dual-lens camera, as well as an aesthetic overhaul to bring its looks in line with the sleek, bezel-free devices currently turning heads from the likes of Samsung.

Read more: Samsung just proved people will pay $1k for Apple's new iPhone

One of the problems Apple faces is that many iPhone users have long memories. In the last decade, the iPhone has transformed the single-use touchscreen into a fluid multi-use playground; it revolutionised smartphone functionality upon launching an app store; and brought the use of virtual personal assistants into the mainstream upon the launch of Siri in 2011.

In comparison, if these suggested iPhone 8 rumours do become a reality, they will seem like excellently executed flourishes on a standout device - but still not truly innovative.

Perhaps the more fundamental issue is how the wider market tastes have changed. As smartphone users have become used to incremental changes to their favourite handsets, the response has been to seek out other differentiators beyond design and features, as well as hold onto their existing model for longer as handset fatigue sets in.

These ripples in the shifting sand have unsettled the long-time duopoly - with Huawei recently being reported as overtaking Apple as the second largest in terms of global smartphone sales share.

Despite this, record revenues continue to the boost share price - a raft of refinements and radical changes alike are likely to place them back in no time.

With the arrival of ambitious, upstart devices from the likes of Wileyfox, Xiaomi and ZTE, mobile customers now don’t have to break the bank to get hold of high-end smartphones.

Accordingly, we’ve seen a sea-change in how mobile customers get hold of their devices. While 24 month contracts are still seen as a popular method - especially among younger customers - of subsidising the cost of the latest handset, our latest research suggests that freedom and flexibility play a much more important part in smartphone ownership.

SIM-only market share has leapt to around 30%, with 15% of customers currently in contracts aiming to move to over when their contracts end.

This is potentially bad news for the iPhone 8 - the projected sky-high cost of the handset may well deter customers put off by having to fork out so much in one go - likely Apple’s first real test of their annual upgrade program.

Marginal gains in smartphone design softening launch buzz has also prompted mobile networks to look towards other areas to help them stand apart and gain customers. With data allowance considered as the most important factor for consumers when choosing a new deal outside of overall monthly cost, providers are looking to take advantage.

A flurry of new zero-rated data deals on certain apps from the likes of Three, Vodafone and Virgin are attempting to take advantage of this appetite for mobile data, allowing users to tweet, surf and stream without eating into their limit - provided you’re on the right service.

Despite only one in five mobile customers convinced that these deals are enough to get them to change provider, their very existence is a demonstration of how the mobile landscape has shifted away from unadulterated handset worship.

The iPhone 8 has its work cut out if it wants to return the market to the halcyon days where the shiniest smartphone conquered all. In reality, customers have had their eyes opened beyond just the appeal of the latest hero handsets from the big players.

We’re now in a much wider-thinking mobile landscape, which can only be good news for the market at large.

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