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The smartphone game in 2015 is all about trying to find a tiny advantage to add on to what is essentially a commoditized five-inch slab of glass. We asked Ryan Reith, research director for mobile devices at IDC, whether some of the new features shown off at Mobile World Congress were gimmicks, or future go-to features.

Curved screens

When television makers began marketing some of their new screens with curves in 2013, it seemed like a case of engineering something because you could, not for any practical reason. With phones, designed to fit in your pocket, curves make even less sense. “We’re starting on the beginning stages on curves and bends, like what you saw with the LG flex, and the Samsung Edge [and what looked like curves on the teased BlackBerry “slider” phone].”

Mr. Reith’s verdict: “These are all gimmicky at this point.”

Wearables

Huaweis smartwatch, which looks like a regular watch, was the surprise hit of MWC, but Mr. Reith warns that what might seem like a profitable accessory has already seen its margins erode, particularly when it comes to fitness bands. “We’re basically at a point where they are giving these things away. It’s only a matter of time when they come bundled with smartphones in the box.”

Mr. Reith’s verdict: Gimmicky, but soon to be ubiquitous.

Wireless charging

The new Samsung S6 (available in Canada April 10) supports wireless charging, and many of the Nokia/Lumia devices have done so for years. Ikea just announced it will build the charging pads into some of its furniture. Mr. Reith says that, until recently, the tradeoff for wireless charging has been added cost and thickness of the device. As progress is made on that front, he predicts all phones will soon support the technology.

Mr. Reith’s verdict: “We’re probably 2-3 years away from not plugging [smartphones] in at all.”

Sub-$100 phones

Motorola’s Moto E is an LTE-enabled smartphone that sells for $149, no subsidy, unlocked. Given the way prices have fallen for the middle and bottom end of the smartphone market, in a few years we’re likely to see something with the specifications of an iPhone 5 selling for under $100, and that fits in with carrier plans to phase out subsidies on as many devices as they can. “The general estimate that we’ve used isAbout 70 per cent of the world’s smartphones are sold unsubsidized.” he says.

Mr. Reith’s verdict: Cheaper phones are on the way, and soon only the highest-end devices (Apple and maybe a few others) will be subsidized.

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