2020 vision: What to expect

A new decade has just begun. It’s exciting, if you can bear to look up from your phone. Speaking of which, here are some predictions for what might happen in mobile in 2020.

Tiny punch holes
Is there anything worse than a phone bezel? Well, yes. Poverty. Disease. Daytime TV. Still, smartphone fans take a dim view of a fat border that limits your screen real estate.

This is why the industry got a boost in 2017 when Apple and others introduced full-screen models. Great. No more bezels. But what’s this? A substantial notch to accommodate the front-facing camera?

The notch couldn’t last. In its place came a small dot in the corner of the screen: the punch hole. Honor even got its punch hole down to 4.5mm. In 2020, we’ll see the punch hole everywhere. It could be that Apple incorporates the design in its iPhone 11S/12. And it looks certain that the Samsung Galaxy S11 will go all-in on it. Rumors suggest it plans to incorporate the smallest punch hole yet.

More 5G but not all 5G
So far, 5G is just something that rich people in affluent urban spaces can enjoy. There are said to be 12.9 million 5G subscribers in the world right now. But this will undoubtedly change in 2020, not least because the handsets will be more affordable. At present, devices cost up to $1500. However, in September chipmaker Qualcomm announced it would put 5G modems in its cheaper Snapdragon 6 and 7 chips.

That could bring 5G handsets down to mid-range levels. 12 phone makers have signed up, and Qualcomm expects about 200 million 5G smartphones will be sold.

No port storm
The race is on to remove all ports from your smartphone. Ports take up space and disturb the smooth lines cherished by industrial designers. But getting rid of them places a lot of faith in wireless charging and data transfer. And it annoys people.

Which handset maker will dare to move first? Well, TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo made a lot of headlines when he predicted Apple would do it in 2021. But could another phone maker jump in 2020?

There have been ‘concept’ designs such as the Vivo Apex, which was teased earlier in 2019. Now, there has been speculation about a port-less OnePlus Concept One, unwrapped at the ongoing CES, revealed to have a disappearing camera.

Goodbye SIM tray
Speaking of ports… how about losing the SIM tray?

When Motorola revived its Razr phone in late-2019, it wasn’t just the folding design that caught attention. This device shipped without a SIM tray. Instead it came with an eSIM. What’s that? It’s a SIM that is embedded into place, and is programmable. In other words, you don’t need to change SIMs to switch networks. You can just scan a barcode.

This is a pretty big deal. You’d expect the telcos to hate this. And for a long time, they did resist the SIM-as-software idea. But they also recognized that you can’t put physical SIMs in watches, smart meters and all the other things they want to connect. Hence the eSIM.

Before Razr, some Google Pixels and some iPhones supported software-based SIMs, but they still retained a physical setup. Post-Razr, maybe we should get ready for more eSIM smartphones in 2020.

Streaming fatigue?
How much streaming can one person take? We may soon find out. After Spotify and Netflix proved the model, many more giant brands piled in. Now we have Disney and Apple competing for video dollars, while Google and Sony jostle to dominate the cloud gaming space.

It’s just the beginning. Microsoft is beta testing its Project xCloud gaming service, and then there’s Amazon. It already offers streaming to Prime members, and it owns the gaming TV service Twitch. Now, there are strong rumors about an Amazon game streaming service.

Some of these companies work with telcos to bundle their services’ free’ with a mobile tariff. But they can’t all succeed, can they?

Dark times ahead for Android
We’re only just getting used to Android 10, and already the Android 11 rumors are flying. Two things we know for sure. First, it will be called Android 11. The old dessert names have gone for good. Second, we know Google will implement Scoped Storage in 2020. This feature (which changes the way that apps interact with the device’s storage) was supposed to come in 2019 but was pushed back.

So what else can we expect? There should be the usual flurry of features to improve battery life, speed up navigation, sharpen up Google Now and so on. But one that everyone expects is a tweak to Dark Mode. Android fans certainly welcomed the feature in 10. Now, insiders expect Google to include ‘dark mode scheduling’ in the next version. The feature automates dark mode, so it comes on automatically after sunset.

More super apps
Wouldn’t it be nice to have one billion users? A small number of ‘super apps’ already do. Think WeChat, for example. These super apps offer their users a world of functionality. They are like mini operating systems in themselves.

Not surprisingly, the race is on to emulate them. It’s why Singapore’s ride-hailing app Grab, for example, raised a load of money to expand into other delivery and retail services. Expect more similar activity in 2020. That said, the app space will always have room for a vibrant long tail. Calldorado developers should remember this!

SMS: the sequel
Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about RCS. It’s the next-gen version of SMS, which will make the default messaging app on your phone do the kinds of things that Facebook Messenger et al can do. In other words: group chat, pics, videos, maybe even payments.

RCS has been on the operators’ agenda for years, the giant companies move slowly. 2020 could be the year when things shift a bit. The big four major US carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile — recently agreed to all support RCS. Next year they will roll it out on Android smartphones.

If phone users respond well, expect operators in other countries to accelerate their own launches.

Forget about AR and VR
Let’s be honest. AR and VR have both flopped (at least in mainstream consumer markets). Google closed its Google Daydream VR viewer. Ask yourself: when was the last time you did anything augmented or virtual? Both technologies are too awkward to navigate. They have no clear (mass-market) use cases. So discount any rumors of smart glasses or slimmed down headsets. At least not in 2020.

The list could go on and on. We could talk about the rise of voice-activated interfaces, possible big M&A deals (who will Facebook buy next? Netflix?), the growth of the second-hand phone market, more ethical-based smartphone apps, and services… but we have to stop somewhere. On to 2020!