The mobile world might finally get exciting again in 2019

From foldable phones to 5G, here's why we're looking forward to next year.

The mobile world might finally get exciting again in 2019
The mobile world might finally get exciting again in 2019

When one of the biggest “innovations” in smartphones in 2018 was the addition of a notch on the display, you know the industry has hit a rut.

With fewer big technical leaps between generations, there’s plenty of evidence that consumers are starting to hit the snooze button on upgrading their phones. A year ago, smartphone sales fell for the first time, and they’ve continued to be on the decline.

Consumers aren’t embracing Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones, which come with only modest updates, and Apple has ceased reporting its iPhone unit sales numbers.

That’s poised to change in 2019. There are enough big upgrades worth talking about, from the advent of 5G (finally) to the debut of flexible, foldable smartphones. The completion of the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint — still not a guaranteed deal yet — could also shake up pricing plans and dynamics between carriers.

Lastly, the ultimate fate of Huawei, which got thrown in the air when Wangzhou Meng, the company’s chief financial officer, and daughter of its founder, was arrested by Canadian authorities.

“Next year will be different,” said Gartner analysts Mark Hung.

Here’s a rundown of what we expect in the coming year, including tons of buzz at CES.

5G

In a discussion about mobile, how can you not talk about 5G? The technology will get a decent kickoff at CES 2019, but you can expect the momentum to build through the year as carriers switch and more and more advanced cellular towers go up.

Ever since Verizon said, three years ago, that it was going to start field-testing 5G, the term’s been one of the hottest buzzwords in tech history. The huge bandwidth boost, responsiveness, and ability to handle multiple devices with varying connection speeds is poised to change our lives — one day.

Though carriers have all committed to a healthy number of launch markets, there’ll be a race to see who can get to scale fastest. T-Mobile said it was committing to a nationwide network build-out by 2020.

Before it can expand its early rollout, Verizon needs to move beyond its proprietary standard for the home broadband service and adopt the industry-standard 5G specifications. The company has declined to provide more specifics on its roll out.

On the product side, look to giants like Samsung to go big with 5G, which is expected to roll out on multiple devices, including one version of the company’s flagship Galaxy S10. OnePlus also said it expects to be among the first with a 5G smartphone, and Sprint and LG have vowed to launch the first 5G smartphone in the US.

Foldable phones

Foldable phones are either a gimmick or the next wave of mobile device design. But if nothing else, they add a new wrinkle and shake up the standard slab of glass or metal.

Samsung offered a brief glimpse at its prototype foldable phone, and it’s likely we’ll see the real deal early next year.

The folding mechanism may be little more than a novelty at first, but so was the curved display introduced in the Galaxy Roundsmartphone five years ago. More

CNET.COM BY ROGER CHENG