As smartphones went through a couple of noticeable innovations in the hardware department in 2018 -- especially Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven cameras and improved battery -- the rise of 5G-ready and foldable devices stole the limelight.
While players like Huawei, LG, Motorola and Apple secured patents on foldable devices, South Korean giant Samsung took a definitive lead, showcasing a real one in November when Justin Dennison, Senior Vice President of Mobile Marketing, took out a foldable smartphone from his jacket at a New York event.
Reports surfaced that Samsung plans to launch its first foldable smartphone in March next year and the shipment volume would be at least one million.
The smartphone would fold inward and sport a 7.4-inch screen when unfolded and have a 4.6-inch display like a regular smartphone when folded.
When it came to 5G, Samsung again pushed the envelope and announced 5G-enabled smartphones with US telecom carriers Verizon and AT&T that would hit the market in the first half of 2019.
Chinese player OnePlus joined the bandwagon in December, announcing it will release a commercial 5G smartphone with carrier network EE in the UK in 2019.
According to Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research, 5G devices will soon be a reality.
"Form factors like foldable phones along with 5G technology will act as a catalyst impacting the upgrade rate of premium smartphones," Pathak told IANS.
"These features will help smartphone original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to differentiate their offerings. One of the aggressive marketing campaigns will surely be about to launch the 'first 5G' smartphone in a region/country or price segment," he added.
"Smartphones have not seen much disruptive innovations for a long time now -- in form factor and display. Samsung has now achieved a technical breakthrough in display manufacturing," noted Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CyberMedia Research (CMR).
Rest of the year saw major innovations in the camera department, with almost every player in the market infusing AI into sensors to do the job of clicking that perfect moment for you.
An early innovator in smartphone camera technology, Huawei in April brought a Leica-designed, triple-camera system in P20 Pro smartphone which became its USP.
Samsung later announced two smartphones -- Galaxy A7 with three-rear camera and Galaxy A9 with the four-rear camera system -- with AI embedded into it.
The year also saw Chinese electronics major Xiaomi's meteoric rise in India, increasing its market share quarter after quarter on the back of its popular Redmi series.
In a bid to break the notion that it is just a smartphone brand, Xiaomi also amplified its products portfolio in categories like fitness and health, smart home, smart travel and more -- using AI and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.
OnePlus 6T became the flagship killer of the year in the Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 segment. Topped with a bigger battery and some hardware improvements, OnePlus 6T made for a highly desirable smartphone in the premium category.
As smartphones scouted for innovation, data went dirt cheap.
Smartphone users in India are now consuming an average 1GB data per day and spending more than 90 minutes on online activities daily across the entry-level, mid and premium segments, revealed a Nielsen India report in September.
"The advent of high-speed 4G Internet, less-expensive mobile handsets and a correction in call data charges have encouraged the speedy adoption of smartphones in India," said Abhijit Matkar, Director-Technology IPG - Nielsen India.
With a rise in smartphone ownership, India is expected to end the year with over 500 million smartphone users, said US-based media agency Zenith.
Beyond smartphones, mobile handset market also saw a mammoth rise and to meet the demand of the mass market, new Chinese and Indian vendors launched affordable handsets with latest features, some even under Rs 5,000.
Backed by robust growth in smartphone as well as smart-feature phone categories, an estimated 302 million mobile handsets will be sold in India in 2019 -- the highest ever in a year -- said technology research consulting firm techARC.
Of the 302 million mobile handsets, 149 million (49.3 per cent) will be smartphones, 55 million (18.2 per cent) will be smart-feature phones and the remaining 98 million (32.5 per cent) will be feature phones.
With data prices breaking all records -- thanks to cheaper plans from carriers like Reliance Jio and affordable yet powerful smartphones now available on shelves -- the smartphone and mobile growth in India would only swell further.
(Nishant Arora can be contacted at email@example.com)