We’re just into the second day of the new year so the memories of the previous one are still quite fresh in our mind. But in case you may have forgotten some of the highlights of 2014, here’s a quick recap of the unforgettable devices, names, and events that entered our mobile world. We also get to polish up our crystal balls as we try to discern movements and trends to cook up some hypotheses as to what will be coming our way this year, especially with CES 2015 just around the corner.
Naturally, device manufacturers have kept to their schedules, more or less, and came out with one or two prime devices. Some, especially the Chinese ones, even came out with a lot more. Here’s a rundown of some of those from the top OEMs in the industry.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung came out with two flagships on the clock, with the Galaxy S5 in early 2014 followed up by the Galaxy Note 4 later last year. The surprise, however, came in two forms. Samsung, for one reason or another, decided to venture just a wee bit into metal, with the Galaxy Alpha and later on with lower-end Galaxy A3, Galaxy A5, and the yet to be seen Galaxy A7. And although it didn’t come up with a successor to the strange Galaxy Round, it still managed to show off some curves in the rather eccentric Galaxy Note Edge.
Top rival and fellow Korean OEM LG isn’t far behind, also with two top phones. The LG G Pro 2, the successor to the large Optimus G Pro, made its way to the market early 2014. But the real star of LG’s show didn’t come until later with the LG G3, one of the first mainstream devices to sport a 2560×1440 QHD resolution (technically the OPPO Find 7 was the first QHD smartphone in the market). LG definitely found a winner in the G3, so much so that the company would reuse that brand many times over even for devices that aren’t as premium as its flagship. Moving forward, LG is rumored to be cutting down on its yearly flagship output, removing the G Pro line from its list and focusing instead on the main G brand.
LG isn’t the only one rumored to go on a diet. Just a year after saying that they will be adopting a bi-annual launch schedule, Sony is now said to be considering switching to only one flagship per year. Of course, that hasn’t happened yet in 2014 which saw the Japanese OEM launch two “incremental” updates to its line, with the Xperia Z2 in February and the Xperia Z3 in September. Equally interesting, however, are the devices that go along with the flagships. Skipping the Z2 line, Sony only had another “Compact” smartphone with the Xperia Z3 Compact. On the other hand, it also launched its first small tablet as well with the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. Rumor has it that Sony’s next tablet will swing the other way and be the biggest it has ever made as far as Android tablets are concerned.
Just like 2013, Motorola only has one flagship. And just like 2013, it was also named the Moto X. Call it the New Moto X or the 2014 Moto X, the name doesn’t give justice to the improvements the former Google subsidiary, now a Lenovo property, made to the smartphone. The budget-friendly Moto G also got a “new” or “2014” edition, but the even more budget-friendly Moto E hasn’t. What’s more curious about Motorola’s devices, however, is that the company also outed two other smartphones that pretty much stole the thunder from the 2014 Moto X, namely the Nexus 6, Motorola’s first ever Nexus, and the even more premium DROID Turbo, with its non-Verizon Moto Maxx counterpart in Latin America.
HTC also had a few surprises up its sleeves in 2014. The HTC One M8 was, unsurprisingly yet thankfully, just as delightful as the previous 2013 model. But it was HTC’s later ventures that really put the company under a new light. The Taiwan-based manufacturer would later make a foray into mobile photography, with the HTC Desire EYE, a deceptively premium smartphone with equal cameras on the front and back enclosed in plastic, and the odd-looking RE action camera. It would then later bring its design sense and manufacturing abilities to the Nexus world with the Nexus 9, the first tablet that it has made in a very long time.
Of course, one cannot forget the major Android announcement this year. After the usual round of name guessing, Google finally revealed the sweet name of Lollipop. But the latest Android version is even sweeter than its name would imply. Probably the biggest update to date, Android 5.0 changes the mobile platform both within and without. Material Design now permeates Google’s products with a paper metaphor, flat, bold colors, judicious use of graphics, and delightful animations. Deep inside, Android has also switched out the runtime component with a brand new, start from scratch Android Runtime (ART) retiring the faithful Dalvik from work.
Although smartwatches aren’t exactly new, there was an explosion of them when Google finally launched Android Wear, the version of Android specifically designed for smartwatches and other wearables. Now we have at least 6 smartwatches in Google Play Store. And that’s not counting Pebble, or the Tizen-powered ones from Samsung, or Sony’s custom smartwatches, or the countless clones and attempts in Kickstarter. Even Apple is has jumped on the bandwagon as well.
Rising Stars: Xiaomi, India
In China, Xiaomi is undoubtedly the king of mobile devices, but its name was only on the fringes in the international market. That all changed once the company started setting its eyes outside of China, which started when it hired Google’s Hugo Barra in 2013. Things really exploded, however, when Xiaomi’s name landed on the list of Top 5 smartphone makers in 2014, causing the world to pay even more attention to the waking dragon. But while many are still trying to woo the Chinese market, a new market darling is starting to emerge. The second most populous country in the world is also becoming the second most sought after emerging market for smartphones. Google got the ball rolling with Android One in India and many are now trying to follow suit. But it isn’t without controversy, as the country has become the stage of legal spats that involve its own Micromax, Chinese startup OnePlus, and Android ROM maker Cyanogen, Inc. The show is just beginning.
2015: What’s Hot and What’s Not
Now that we’ve seen what 2014 looked like from a bird’s eye view, what can we expect from 2015, aside from a flood of flagship smartphones and tablets? And what are the things that might not fly at all?
It’s no secret that Google is after cars, now that it has finished its work on Android Wear and Android 5.0. 2015 is the year when many car makers have promised integration with Google’s new infotainment system, believed to debut in “Android M”. But just like in the smartphone race, it will have some tough competition. Apple’s CarPlay will also be in Play this year, and some automobile companies aren’t completely sold on the promise of a full-fledged Android system on the dashboard, preferring to roll out their own for the time being.
2015 will also be the year that the retail version of the modular phone will hit the market. At least, if all goes well. Development is definitely going well and there are even other attempts at making a similar modular smartphone outside of Google’s control. Of course, it all depends on the amount of modules that will be available at launch, not to mention their prices, and we will get to hear and maybe even see a lot of those in the upcoming Module Developers’ Conference this month.
Naturally, smartphones this year will get a big update, at least the high-end ones. The LG G3 got the ball rolling, and many flagships are expected to start sporting a QHD display. Hopefully, size variations have more or less plateaued by now and those high-resolution screens won’t get any larger than they need to be. Of course, that doesn’t mean these OEMs won’t be making gigantic phablets anymore, just hopefully nothing as ridiculous as a 7-inch phone.
Although Apple triggered the 64-bit discussion back in 2013, it will only be in 2015 that the Android world will be catching up, now that Qualcomm has its own 64-bit team. Things have actually already started last December, with a few new devices sporting the Snapdragon 810, 610, and 410 but it will most likely really pick up this year. Hopefully, it will pave the way eventually for 4 GB or higher RAM inside our smartphones, something that Samsung is already laying the groundwork for.
Naturally, not everyone will be winners this year, and some may or may not make it to 2015’s top achievers. Android TV, Google’s formal entry into that space, is one of those whose future is still a bit muddy in our palantirs. While pretty much long-awaited, people have probably waited too long already before Google made its move. It’s first implementation in the Nexus Player fell rather short of the hype, though it did show promise that will hopefully be fulfilled this year. Android TV’s fate, however, will be tied to the Smart TV trend in general. With platform wars looming on TVs, Google’s platform will be facing off with LG’s WebOS and Samsung’s Tizen for a piece of the living room.
Google Glass, VR Headsets
2015 might also be the year that Google Glass is finally put to rest. Already 2 years in the making, the smart eyewear doesn’t seem to be anywhere near retail availability, something that is causing interested developers to fall off one by one. Without a healthy ecosystem of apps, Google Glass will most likely remain an even more niche and less useful contraption. It doesn’t help that it is mired in controversy especially on the legal side. Of course, there are other attempts at smart spectacles, even ones that simply clip on to existing glasses, but Google Glass’ failure would also bring about the death of these devices.
Our eyes might instead be entertained by virtual reality headsets, but even then only for a short while. Unambiguously entertainment devices, things like the Oculus Rift and the Gear VR have even less purpose in our digital lives than Google Glass. Gamers will absolutely love them and they will be fancy additions to your cinematic experience. The Gear VR‘s low price, though limited to a single smartphone, will drive market prices down and we’re already seeing a few attempts at a more generic smartphone accessory. But beyond a small crowd, these VR headsets are less likely to be a part of your living room than, say, a smart lamp.
Of course, these are just predictions based on existing trends, and things might take a different turn, for better or for worse, as the days, weeks, and months go by. If anything, these just show how volatile, fast-changing, and exciting the mobile industry can be. So seat back and enjoy the ride as we trek 2015 together. And what better way to start the year with a bang than with CES 2015. See you in Las Vegas!