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Fast Charge: New phones are only in line for minor upgrades, but is that really such a bad thing?

It seems that many of 2022’s smartphones are just likely to receive a modest specs bump rather than a serious rethink, but is this a good or bad thing for the industry as a whole?

This week has been awash with news and rumours about forthcoming smartphones – after all, MWC 2022 is just a few weeks away now, and excitement is building towards all the devices that are set to be launched over the spell of a few days in Barcelona.

However, going by he information we’ve got so far, you might be a little underwhelmed by what’s on show, particularly if you’re hoping for ambitious new designs and staggering new specs.

Just take a look at some of the devices that we’ve published on this week, for example. According to rumours, the Oppo Find X5 Pro will have the exact same screen and camera system as its predecessor; the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G has a practically identical display to its forerunner, and only slight adjustments to its camera apertures (while the actual sensors remain the same); and apparently the upcoming iPhone SE 2022 will differ only with regards to its processor, with all other specifications remaining more or less the same until a major redesign gets underway a long two years from now.

That’s not even mentioning the biggest launch of the year so far, the Samsung Galaxy S22, which looks very samey to what has come before, despite a touch of window dressing here and there.

Admittedly, the previous generation of each of the aforementioned devices were very good handsets, so the lack of sweeping changes is hardly a disaster; but nonetheless it’s hard to get excited about the new ones when there’s hardly anything that’s actually “new” about them.

The technology market has typically distinguished itself from others by its rapid pace of progress, with devices seeming old-fashioned just years after release, and hordes of admiring fans keen to diligently read every last word about the tweaks and adjustments made to the latest gadgets. Unfortunately, it seems like 2022 is not going to be a bumper year for new developments.

There could be a few reasons for that; for one thing, the pandemic and its resulting public health restrictions may have held back development and production, as we’ve already seen to alarming effect where processor production has been concerned. It may even be that after so many years of intense competition the market has matured and each manufacturer has been pushed to its limit, with there simply not being many areas that can be upgraded based on current knowhow.

While it’s our tendency to feel a bit gloomy when there are precious few new features to get to grips with in new technology products, is there a chance that there is an upside for the consumer?

Well, for one thing, previous generation phones (especially those on Android) are still likely to receive swooping price cuts when the new generation hits the shelves, so there’s the opportunity to grab yourself a not-so-very-different phone that’s just one year old. For another, it means you could hand onto the phone you did buy last year without splashing out on a yearly or biannual upgrade that you may have felt compelled to do before. (That’s not even mentioning the attendant lack of technological waste from such savings and cutbacks, which has long been a stain on the industry that manufacturers are only belated coming round to address, albeit in a limited way.)

On the other hand, with little to change on a hardware basis, fierce competition could turn to software instead; Samsung has already announced much longer software support for its latest series of smartphones as part of the One UI 4.1 rollout, and that’s highly welcome news given how Android does tend to lag far behind Apple in this sphere. If software optimisation and updates become the latest “arms race” in the smartphone world, in the same way that display refresh rates suddenly took centre-stage in the last year or two, then that would be good news for all of us.

Finally, the lack of innovation or change in the smartphone sector may simply be the quiet before the storm. It’s no secret that plenty of manufacturers are pumping innovation money into newer products such as foldable and rollable screens, and the newest iterations of such devices — the Honor Magic V or the Huawei P50 Pocket for example — are already starting to show impressive signs of maturity, a far cry from the dodgy prototype-like first-gen foldables.

Yes, I might still be stuck firmly in the bargaining phase of the five stages of grief, but there are still some silver linings to be found in a lean year of tech upgrades — even if you have to squint very hard to see them through the clouds.

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