by Kirk Douglas
Late 2015 brought us the communication-themed mixtape by Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone where expression centers on communication triumphs and mostly failures using telephones, particularly cell phones, both in metaphors (lyrically) and literally (via sound) to describe longing for connectivity and the downside of our reliance on mobile devices.
At the 18 second mark of “Pose” from Rihanna‘s latest album, Anti, we hear the sound of an outgoing iMessage incorporated in the music. It is unclear if the sound was an intentional addition but it exists in the mastered recording regardless.
In Kanye West‘s “30 Hours” from TLOP we hear an incoming call as the unmistakable “Marimba” iPhone ringtone sounds off in the last portion of the track. Kanye answers, describes to the caller that he is ad-libbing and he converses while he completes the song.
These songs all incorporate familiarity drawing attention to the current state of our everyday lives, intentional or otherwise. We all know what its like to have our call go to voicemail, to mark moments of our lives by sharing a text with a friend or have an incoming call or notification as we embark on our small personal breakthroughs, or as Kanye claimed, making your “album of the life.”
Regardless of your circumstance, if you’re using a modern day internet-connected device or you spend time around those who do, you know many of these experiences being referenced. These accounts fused with modern music seems strange but a sign of the times no less as cell phones are becoming ubiquitous in our day to day communications. You can’t escape the ever-changing technologies we’ve come to rely on and the constant marketing that feeds these devices into our everyday view across the web.
This week in particular, we have an abundance of product related news gunning for consumer dollars. Cell technology has taken center stage once again at the annual Mobile World Congress (or MWC) in Barcelona, Spain where leading companies from all over the globe unveil their next-gen consumer communication products. It’s a technology event that signals the opportunity for manufacturers to show their respective paths into the future through the pockets, wrists and hearts of consumers.
Going into the week with awareness of MWC, I found myself thinking about the music I mentioned earlier. I thought about how commonplace our technology has become, how it has permeated even art forms like music, seemingly so distant – yet now just as attached as the rest of us. After all, music videos as of late have become a near-perfect way for artists and companies alike to market product ranging from headphones and speaker systems to of course, cell phones (see Ariana Grande’s “focus” video). I thought about what celebrities might take stage, who might be unveiled as the face of these new products and yes – the products themselves.
In today’s offerings, we have variance in screen sizes, options in handheld computing power, incredible implementations of mobile cameras and accessories galore. Our cell phones feel comfortable, predictable even and we finally have choice. But every time these announcements come to fruition it seems there’s a part of the industry begging for some blowout change that might cause a paradigm shift.
Every year tech industry reporters clamor for early views of new products, hands-on opportunities and perhaps a review unit sent after the show. But lately there aren’t many surprises. Surely, there is a multinational corporation in Barcelona making an announcement this week who will offer us some surprise, no?
Its hard to know what would send tech pundits and consumers alike over the moon with a knock-out announcement. The iPhone spoiled us back in 2007 by changing the game for long-term players who didn’t understand computing as good as newcomer of the day, Apple. Though software and components in mobile phones have changed dramatically since the iPhone’s debut, the overall look and interactivity have stayed largely the same.
A few companies have already announced their plans this week, and there are indeed some surprises in store, though they might not have the same impact.
Samsung, who was criticized heavily in their last flagship rollout for forgoing an SD card slot and removable battery, have announced their next flagship series to address their market and some of its concerns. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge boast the latest Android release, a Micro-SD card slot, water resistance, fast charging and wireless charging, in addition to improved camera sensors, fast QUALCOMM processors and a few other notable additions. They made slight improvements to last year’s physical design – one they received mostly praise on – and added “always on” sections to the screen which will present information on the device even when it is in standby.
Sony, announced 3 devices I would consider among the best looking if you’re taste leans toward sleek lined, thin-bezeled, rounded-rectangles. The company, who’s mobile division has been struggling for some time now, will be releasing the Xperia XA, Xperia X and Xperia Performance; all three variations of one another with the latter 2 of 3 offering more advanced processing power, fingerprint sensors and a higher-quality machined chassis. All will feature camera sensors and technology unique to Sony, the top end offering up to 8-megapixel front-facing cameras and 23-megapixel rear cameras. The phones are attractive but most notable in that they are aiming for what Sony calls the “Super Mid-Range,” a curious way to describe their marketing of the device.
Perhaps most notably so far in this week’s announcements is LG. As a company who has struggled against rival Samsung, their current attempt to gain relevance is hinged on the announcement of their upcoming G5 smartphone. First hands-on accounts of the new device offer praise for bold design decisions and the adaptation of a fingerprint sensor placed along the backside of the device; a decision in line with flagship Android devices such as the Google Nexus 6P. Most notable however, is the modularity of the phone and its unique accessories which LG is calling “friends.” These so-called “friends” include a camera accessory (LG CAM Plus), a Bang and Olufson DAC (Digital Audio Converter) and a streamlined VR headset that can be connected to the phone for VR gameplay and entertainment. The modularity aspect that seems interesting is in how some of these devices connect, which is actually done by sliding the bottom phone bezel out, complete with battery, and replacing it with the appropriate “friend” accessory you wish to use. Certain accessories, such as the LG CAM Plus include a larger high-capacity battery when fitted into the chassis. The design is novel, but reliant on consumers showing enough interest to purchase both the phone and uniquely suited accessories to determine its success.
What these companies have brought to the table in their MWC announcements offer some interesting innovation. But is it any less predictable than what we might have guessed going in?
I think Samsung’s attempts to reconsider decisions past will pay off to those who sorely missed Micro-SD slots and water resistance. Sony, in typical fashion, never fails to amaze in their core competency with camera sensors, but will it help them sell phones? LG is surely taking a risk – the biggest risk it seems – in their attempt to mass-market modularity and connected accessories, but will they find success in this business model? That remains to be seen.
Among the last presenters, Xioami is live-streaming their event as I write this. With the big names behind us (many of which I did not mention here), any monumental change in cellphone technology seems like it may have to wait another year if MWC is to be the venue for a big unveiling. That said, we are only a quarter of the way through 2016. Will the big players in mobile sing the same song of predictability, or might we hear a different tune from launches later on in the year?
I’ll keep my ears open to the music moving forward. The ubiquity of our cellular devices is likely here to stay and it will be interesting to see what commonplace sounds we are picking out of songs a decade from now.