Technalysis Research
Previous Blogs

April 22, 2014
BYOD: A Work in Progress

April 18, 2014
Insider Extra: AMD Back in the Groove

April 15, 2014
The Mobility Myth

April 9, 2014
BYOD Dilemma: Devices vs. Data

April 8, 2014
Insider Extra: Qualcomm's Evolving Story

April 1, 2014
A Wearables Forecast

March 25, 2014
Measuring Success in Wearables? It's Thousands of Thousands

March 24, 2014
Insider Extra: Intel Strategy Moves Forward

March 18, 2014
IOT: Islands of Isolated Things?

March 11, 2014
Wearables Cautionary Tale

March 4, 2014
The New Platform Battle

February 25, 2014
Watch What Happens

February 18, 2014
Talkin' 'bout Touchpads

February 11, 2014
The MultiOS Conundrum

February 4, 2014
Computing Redefined

January 28, 2014
The Apple Problem

January 21, 2014
The 2-in-1s People Might Want

January 14, 2014
The Post Tablet Era

January 7, 2014
The Innovation Asymptote

December 31, 2013
Top 5 2014 Predictions

December 17, 2013
Holiday Shoppers Gifting Themselves

December 10, 2013
Companion Apps

December 3, 2013
Aisle Check

TECHnalysis Research Blog

April 29, 2014
The Next Smartphone Battleground: Durability

As smartphones continue to evolve, it’s getting harder and harder for vendors to create compelling new features and functions that drive existing users to upgrade their phones. Sure, there are important increases in screen sizes and resolutions, improvements in camera quality and modest increases in performance, but most of these have been underway for quite a while now. Plus, with a few important exceptions (I’m talking about you, future large-screen iPhone…), they are already part of the mainstream options that most of us are using today.

But there is one area very few vendors have tackled that I believe is going to be increasingly important: a phone’s durability. I’m always amazed at how often I see people still using phones with modestly or even horribly cracked screens, for example, and speaking from my own experience, there is no device I own that gets more abuse than my smartphone. While I don’t have any hard statistics on it, I have to believe that a good percentage of smartphone replacement purchases are based on “broken phones”—either from dropping on the ground, dropping in liquid or any number of other accidental spills that are bound to happen to devices that most of us carry with us all the time and everywhere we go. Based on this, having a more durable device is bound to be attractive to consumers of all types (and all over the world) and yet the vast majority of phones in use and currently being sold don’t feature any kind of enhanced “toughness.”

Part of the issue is that there are many ways to add robustness to a device like a smartphone. Recently, we have started to see several vendors, notably Samsung with their S5 and Sony with some of their Xperia phones, offer pretty impressive waterproofing capabilities. Leveraging new coating materials that can protect both external and internal components from damage, these phones are being actively marketed as more durable.

The biggest challenge most users face isn’t waterproofing, however, but cracked screens. This is a much tougher problem to solve, unfortunately, because the need for a clean, touch-friendly display has driven most vendors to glass—particularly chemically-strengthened varieties like Corning’s Gorilla Glass. But even fortified glass is still essentially glass and that means when you drop it, it often breaks. Some vendors are starting to look at plastic substrates and plastic cover layers—which, in some cases can also be used to create curved glass—in order to get around this and I expect we’ll see more developments in this area over the next 12-18 months. Other companies are also starting to consider more exotic materials, like transparent sapphire (chemically synthesized in labs, by the way, not from the naturally occurring jewel), with rumors that the iPhone 6 could have a complete sapphire cover layer when it debuts later this year.

Of course, part of the challenge is also the fact that vendors may not be as interested in adding durability as they are other more whiz-bang features. Let’s be honest. Durability may be of practical value, but it isn’t exactly a sexy attribute and lots of phones are still sold on sex appeal. Plus, the longer devices last, the less frequently they are going to be replaced and that potentially works against vendors eager to sell more devices. The ironic reality is, however, as smartphone lifetimes start to lengthen because of the lack of compelling new hardware innovations, a feature designed to make them last even longer could be the ticket to trigger a new wave of upgrades.

.Here's a link to the original column:

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