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Slower growth will challenge smartphone vendors in 2014

Mikael Ricknäs | Dec. 6, 2013
Vendors will continue to lean on higher resolutions and faster processors.

More powerful processors will allow smartphone vendors to turn their high-end models into gaming consoles, but slower growth will also force them to focus more on improving their less expensive products next year.

This year smartphone shipments are expected to surpass 1 billion units for the first time, thanks to impressive 39 percent growth year-on-year, according to IDC. Shipments are expected to continue to grow by almost 20 percent next year, so vendors will have to work harder to get users to upgrade.

Here are some of the trends that will shape the market in 2014:

Higher screen resolutions
Larger screens with higher resolutions have been one of the biggest smartphone trends in the last couple years, and that shows few signs of abating. For example, LG Electronics' Display unit has developed a 5.5-inch screen for next generation smartphones with a 2560 by 1440 pixel resolution.

That combination equals a density of 538 ppi (pixels-per-inch), which compares to the HTC One's 468 ppi on a 4.7-inch screen and the Samsung's Galaxy S4's 441 ppi on a 5-inch screen.

The higher resolution allows users to see a full view of a PC-version Web page without any image distortion, LG said when it announced the display earlier this year. Whether other vendors follow suit remains to be seen, but Samsung is reportedly working on a displays with the same resolution on a smaller screen size.

LTE picks up pace
While LTE is still in its infancy in many parts of the world, operators have started to test a technology called carrier aggregation to offer faster download speeds. It allows networks to devote more resources to some users by treating two channels in the same or different frequency bands as if they were one.

U.K. mobile operator EE is testing two times 20MHz to reach 300Mbps, which is the theoretical maximum, for now. Vodafone and Telefónica in Germany as well as SK Telecom in South Korea are testing one 10MHz channel plus one 20MHz channel for up to 225Mbps. The South Korean operator was the first to offer carrier aggregation in June, but only at speeds that can be matched by the fastest regular LTE networks.

EE expects the first commercial 300Mbps routers will be introduced by the middle of next year, with smartphones arriving in the second half of the year.

New LTE chipsets will also open the door for 4G phones that cost less.

A game console in disguise
Smartphones have had a profound effect on the gaming sector by making portable devices such as the Sony PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo 3DS less appealing. As smartphones become even more powerful next year, vendors such as Samsung and Apple will go after a larger share of the gaming market.


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