New Delhi, Dec 30: If 2017 was about dual cameras and longer battery life, the year 2018 is expected to churn out smartphones with larger screens packed with features like facial recognition and augmented/virtual reality.
Put simply, the phones are slated to become grander, lighter and smarter in 2018 with features so advanced that they would seem straight out of a sci-fi flick. And 2017 has already set the tone for such new age innovations.
The handset in 2017 were less about calling, more an extension of the owners' personality -- a high-resolution camera, an on-demand movie screen, a portable music system, apps for just about anything -- and all these tech wonders in one device that fit snugly into the palm of your hand.
Handset makers kept the momentum high through the year, refreshing their portfolio with new models across multiple price points. Companies like Samsung, Micromax and Vivo introduced devices with 18:9 aspect ratio display that promise a better viewing experience to users.
The devices became an instant hit with Indian users, who, incidentally, are now the biggest consumers of mobile data.
Facial recognition and artificial intelligence -- through virtual assistants -- are slated to reach more hands as Chinese and domestic players bring such features onto more affordable devices.
These AI-based features are also making their way into wearables like fitness trackers and smartwatches that help people improve their health and lifestyles.
Interestingly, Chinese players -- Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Lenovo -- continued to dominate the Indian market, taking up 4 spots in the top 5 tally (in terms of shipment).
While Samsung held onto the pole position in the market for most part of the year, Xiaomi emerged as a strong challenger and at the end of September quarter, both companies ended up in a photo finish, sharing the top honours.
"It will be interesting to see the two compete. Xiaomi's challenge is the offline market where Samsung has a stronghold. Samsung will have to ramp up its online presence and Xiaomi is a leader there," an industry executive said.
That said, the going was not easy for the Chinese players.
In August, in a move that coincided with stand-off between India and China over Dokalam, New Delhi asked smartphone makers -- majority Chinese -- to report procedures adopted by them to ensure security and privacy of users' data.
The year also saw US-based Apple commencing manufacturing of iPhone SE in India in partnership with Wistron, underlining the importance of the domestic smartphone market that is among the largest in the world and growing at a scorching pace.
Whether or not Apple manufactures more premium devices here remains to be seen, but the Cupertino-based tech giant has been engaged in talks with government over incentives like duty exemption on manufacturing and repair units.
As per research firm Counterpoint, about 134 million smartphones are expected to be sold in the country this year, with the number growing to 155 million next year.
While the growth of smartphones has been phenomenal, it has not dampened the sale of feature phones significantly. Of the 298 million phones expected to be sold in 2018, 143 million are likely to be feature phones.
"There is still a large segment of people that have not either experienced a smartphone or are more comfortable with feature phone's form factor. The transition to smartphones has been slower than anticipated," Counterpoint Research Associate Director Tarun Pathak said.
Reliance Jio, which changed the telecom sector's landscape in 2016 with free calls and data plans at throwaway prices, shook the market once again this year with "4G-enabled feature phone" at an effective price of zero.
The device allows users to access data and even watch videos. The user can use the JioPhone for 36 months, and get a full refund of the security deposit of Rs 1,500 by returning the device.
Jio's masterstroke forced telcos like Airtel and Vodafone to team up with handset makers like Micromax and Intex to offer handsets bundled with offers at subsidised rates.
The year 2017 also saw handset makers placing their bets on "hero" models like Galaxy Note 8 (Samsung) and Redmi 4A (Xiaomi) to not just woo new customers but also convert them into brand loyalists.
Lenovo India Mobile Business Group (MBG) Country Head Sudhin Mathur says the focus for mobile phone makers is on enhancing customer experience.
"Specification, pricing is just one part. There are other aspects. It's about how one feels holding the handset, the experience of using it," he adds.
Experts feel the focus will be on enhancing the software of the phone, allowing users to do more with their devices.
While the affordable segment -- handsets priced under Rs 8,000 -- continued to be the sweet spot for the market, customers seem to be warming up to the idea of shelling out more for additional features.
Interestingly, the refresh cycles also continue to decrease with some consumers replacing their devices within a year of purchase.
He added that the sub-Rs 5,000 category would account for about 23 per cent share of the market, Rs 8,000-20,000 segment 43 per cent and the premium category (above Rs 30,000) 3 per cent share in 2018.
The mushrooming of smartphones has claimed its victims. Sales of desktops and laptops have been impacted, but analysts feel PCs will remain a prime medium for content creation. Mobile phones and tablets will be consumption devices.
Phones set to get smarter in 2018 with futuristic tech