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Looking ahead: eSIMs, AI speed smartphone evolution

With eSIMs, AI and foldable touchscreens continuing to change the way we use our smartphones, some users are adopting the 'less is more mantra' and reaching for the good old feature phone.

Tereza Krásová

December 27, 2023

3 Min Read
Red landline phones hanging from above on a grey background.
(Source: Brian Jackson/Alamy Stock Photo)

Whether you see it as an indispensable tool for a big chunk of our daily needs or a highly addictive sledge hammer for our attention spans, there is no debate that smartphones have taken central stage in our lives. So, how will this crucial piece of technology continue to evolve in the coming year?

The continuing rise of the embedded SIM (or eSIM) is one trend that is particularly concerning to network operators because they worry it could make it too easy for customers to switch providers. When the eSIM first appeared in 2017, it went largely unnoticed by consumers. But that is starting to change, not least because of Apple's decision last year to remove the SIM tray from iPhone 14 models sold in the US.   

Earlier this year, Dario Talmesio, research director at Omdia (a Light Reading sister company) told this publication that Apple is likely to repeat its eSIM move in Europe and some Asian markets next year. And while awareness is still low globally, a growing number of companies are now offering dedicated eSIM offers for travelers hoping to dodge pricey roaming charges. 

In June, Counterpoint said that the market has reached an inflection point, with eSIM adoption expected to start growing rapidly, including in the smartphone segment. However, smartphones are not the only segment benefitting from the eSIM, with adoption also rising in the IoT segment. 

According to Luc Vidal, Head of M2M/IoT Business and Mobility at BICS, "2023 was a transformative step forward in adoption of eSIM for IoT, in part thanks to the GSMA's introduction of a new standard laying the groundwork for more flexible eSIM architectures that more closely emulate the eSIM model for consumer devices like smartphones."

AI and dumbphones

And more change is afoot in the device segment. Samsung, which has been focusing heavily on foldable touchscreen phones, may be planning to introduce the technology to some mid-tier models, according to research firm CCS Insight.

Google, meanwhile, used AI to enhance the Google Assistant, search and camera in this year's Pixel 8 Pro. As Light Reading's Robert Clark wrote earlier this year, it is hard to predict in what ways and how profoundly AI will transform handsets, but it is certainly an interesting area to watch.

In the meantime, some consumers in the US and Europe are asking for less, not more, from their phones. There has been a lot of talk about the resurgence of "dumbphones" as some Gen Z and Millennial users seek to carve back some of the time, attention span and (arguably) sanity they have previously sacrificed at the connectivity altar. 

As a result, a growing number of people are going back to phones that look like they would be perfectly at home if brought back to 2003 by a time machine – except the 4G wouldn't work. While it remains to be seen whether this trend will survive into 2024, it has inspired companies like Light, an AT&T MVNO, to come up with more innovative "minimalist" phones

Going green

Another thing that's changing is the way we purchase and own smartphones. The market for refurbished devices has been on the rise because of the cost-of-living crisis, as well as sustainability concerns.

Earlier this year, CCS Insight predicted that by the end of the 2024, European operators may start introducing smartphone-as-a-service subscriptions including replacements, repairs and guaranteed trade-in prices.

All of this is good for the environment. The French regulator ARCEP notes that most digital carbon emissions come from user terminals including mobile phones and TVs, with longer lifespans a good way to limit their impact. To help customers make more sustainable choices, the EU is fine-tuning its "right to repair" legislation, which may help boost the circular economy.

About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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