5G will be the biggest game-changer to affect a softening hardware market this year - but not for Apple, according to a senior IDC analyst.
Although he believes 5G is the “next killer feature” to affect the slowing smartphone market, IDC vice president of client devices Bryan Ma believes its adoption will be challenged by the availability of 5G chips.
In particular, Apple’s ongoing legal tussle with Qualcomm over the iPhone and patents covering cellular connectivity will leave the technology reliant on Intel for 5G chips - which are not expected to be ready until 2020.
“There will be early adopters that jump on 5G and they will promote it, so we should see a little bit of interest [from the consumer end],” Ma says. "5G will provide momentum for some phone upgrades in the upcoming years, but in a gradual manner. Android vendors will be first in 2019 as they leverage Qualcomm’s chips, while Apple will likely not come out until 2020 given its reliance on Intel instead."
The personal computer (PC) and laptop market, which in Australia experienced 2.2 per cent growth last year, could also be affected by 5G’s roll-out. However, according to Ma, the local telecommunication players will likely hold things up.
“Qualcomm has been assisting Hewlett Packard, Lenovo and Samsung [with 5G],” he says. “A lot of these players are in the game, but it’s a small market right now in terms of 4G. But the big issue with 5G PCs isn’t the chips or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), it’s the telcos.
“Cellular modems have been with PCs for quite some time as an optional component but it never quite took off. I would argue that’s because telcos have not made it easy to get another subscription and people don't want to pay for another when you will be consuming a lot of data on a PC or laptop. But I’m sure the telcos will get to a point whereby you can buy data bundles for that.”
2019 will be critical for foldable smartphones phones
With smartphone brands expected to unveil a number of foldable phones during Mobile World Congress, Ma believes the device will be a dominant trend this year. However, he remains sceptical about its effect on the consumer market.
“Frankly I think foldable phones are going to be a bit over-hyped,” he says. “The technology for the screen has been around for years, but there has always been a challenge around cost, reliability and yield. 2019 will be the critical year for foldable phones. But I’m not expecting it to be a big part of the market.”
Issues that could potentially affect the devices include software applications, battery life and even the method of folding. Although Google has worked with Samsung on it’s newly-revealed Galaxy Fold, Ma argues screen display could also be an issue for consumers.
“And what exactly are foldable phones for: is it just about watching Netflix?,” he adds.
AR and VR: ‘Has promise, but still to take off’
Despite the hype, the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) market has still to take off with many vendors such as Osterhout Design Group even exiting altogether, says Ma.
“There is quite a bit of promise for education, healthcare, military training; the problem is they are just small pilots,” he explains. “It’s still the early days of building awareness and the application ecosystem. And these are not vast deployments, they are small functions in a business. There’s definitely value and businesses are changing, but it remains on a small level.
“I don’t think the industry quite took off in the way it was hoped it would. It’s main consumers were gamers but there are not that many gaming titles that have made it a major component of their products.”
The hands-free benefits of AR have potential for industrial environments - such as a fuel refinery -, but the battery life and applications remain nascent, he adds.