MWC (Mobile World Congress) is known as one of the world’s leading trade fairs for technological innovation. However, some may also know that it is also a high place for the torture of electronic devices.
Out of the eight huge halls where no less than 2400 companies gather,
about ten exhibitors were engaging themselves in spectacular smartphone tests. For example, construction specialist Caterpillar presented so-called “rugged” smartphones, embedded in ice blocks, immersed in aquariums or thrown into a sandbox. Others slipped the unfortunate devices into steam or oil baths.
But it was undoubtedly the manufacturers of shells and protective screens that were the most devious and inventive in their demonstrations. Visibly inspired by these YouTubers, who take pleasure in abusing our electronic devices, they placed the object under improbable drills or hammers.
However, so much ingenuity leaves one wondering: while so many technological wonders make it possible to avoid breaking screens or altering the electronic components of devices, why are consumer telephones not equipped with them?
Keeping up with the market
The first reason is first of all psychological. The rugged smartphones from Caterpillar, Energizer, and Crosscall are almost unbreakable, reasonably affordable and relatively efficient.
But they do not meet the aesthetic standards of the general public, who prefer minimalist, thin devices with shiny materials. Nor do they correspond to its uses: the general public renews its telephone on average every 29 months, according to the Guardian. Modular or easily repaired smartphones has not been particularly successful. Smartphone technologies made to last, in ice as in water, remain confined to niche markets (construction professionals, the army, security, extreme sports, etc.).
The technical and economic constraints of smartphone manufacturing are another factor that makes the devices on the market fragile. Even if the general public wants solid products (this is one of their most critical purchasing criteria), they are not necessarily willing to pay a high price for them.
The average selling price of a smartphone in 2018 was 345 euros. Materials such as sapphire crystals are almost unbreakable, but their production cost is such that they remain reserved for luxury appliances, such as high-end Apple Watches.
New opportunities for growth
This choice is not entirely insignificant. Screen replacement is a significant source of revenue for smartphone manufacturers, especially when the sale of smartphones slows down. This repair market is overgrowing. Americans spent $23.5 billion to replace their screens in 2014, according to a study by Square Trade Data. IDC figures suggest an amount of nearly $30 billion in 2016.
Many entrepreneurs also noticed that there was enough room to be made at this stage. Thus they offer stickers, protective shells more or less reliable. Their presence at the MWC and their spectacular demonstrations were partly proof of the dynamism of this market, which is set to grow as the scarcity of natural resources forces consumers and manufacturers to rethink the lifespan of smartphones.