2019 in Review: Mobile highs and lows

As we welcome a new year, we take a look back at the 12 months that came before it, with fondness or otherwise. Like all other years before it, 2019 had its winners and losers and the events that transpired will shape the mobile industry moving forward. We take a quick glance at some of the highlights of the mobile market in 2019 to also steal a glimpse at the trends that are in store for us in 2020. And, no, it's not just all about 5G.

Huawei and the Specter of Espionage

2019 started with a bang except for one smartphone maker. Huawei was almost off to a good start until the US slammed it with its heaviest sanction of all. Deprived of direct access to Google Play Store among other things, Huawei was forced to gather all its resources and check loyalties. It also tested just how far the US' influence and control can go.

At the heart of Huawei's plight is the accusation of being a threat to national security, particularly through state-sanction espionage. It wasn't the only name dragged into that spy game, though, and 2019 was a big year for apps rising and falling under the same circumstances. China's TikTok, Russia's FaceApp, and, more recently, UAE's ToTok made headlines because of their fame and then their infamy at being alleged tools for other governments to spy on both their citizens as well as others'.

Foldables and Duos

Samsung kicked off 2019 with a large boast, finally revealing its long-awaited foldable phone. It should have probably spent more time waiting if only to spare itself from the embarrassment and costs of a failed products. It eventually recovered and made up for lost time but the damage was done. That, however, isn't stopping others like Motorola from taking a stab at it from a different angle.

While Samsung, Huawei, and Motorola are competing over folding phones with folding screens, a different path is being carved out by LG and especially Microsoft. We won't be seeing the Surface Duo until late 2020 but LG seems to be generously testing the waters for Microsoft with the LG V50 ThinQ and the G8X ThinQ with Dual Screens.

Sugarless Android

Android also changed in a big way in 2019 though not internally. For the first time since 2009, Google dropped using desserts as codenames for Android releases. Whether it ran out of ideas for names or it wanted to portray a healthier lifestyle, it released Android Q as simply Android 10.

It was more than just a simple branding change, though. By making it easier to remember and identify, Google was projecting the image of Android as "all grown up", something serious that businesses can talk about with a straight face. That, of course, won't magically make Android better and 2020 will see if it will be able to stand up to that image.

Circles and squares

2019 probably saw the most changes in smartphone design in recent years. The urge to push out bezels and cram more cameras inside a small slab of metal and glass has given birth to a variety of gimmicks, including popup cameras. The most controversial, perhaps, are the punch-hole cutouts in screens and the new squarish bumps on the back.

It's not a trend that will be going away soon, it seems. In fact, it seems that's only about to get worse, or better if that's your take. That's especially true for the new style of cameras bumps thanks to an indirect show of support from Apple.

Apple's Roller coaster

Even Apple wasn't spared from the whirlwind ride that was 2019. It planned big things for its fans and drove up expectations accordingly. The thing with big expectations, however, is that they hurt more when things don't go well.

iPadOS was definitely a good thing and it revived what many thought to be a rather dead tablet market. Its rollout, however, overshadowed by iOS 13 bugs. To its credit, Apple moved swiftly to fix things but the situation had many wondering about Apple's ability to maintain software quality moving forward.

Gaming on the go

One of the promises of 5G is faster downloads with less latency and one of the major beneficiaries of that will be streaming, both video and gaming. Some companies, however, aren't waiting for that piece to fall into place before launching their own take on mobile gaming.

From dedicated and exclusive platforms like Apple Arcade to purely cloud-based game streaming like Google Stadia to the middle-ground offered by Samsung's PlayGalaxy Link, 2019 was filled with news about games you can play wherever and whenever you want. And that's with only 4G or Wi-Fi connectivity even!

Looking Forward

5G will undoubtedly be the predominant theme in 2020, especially with Qualcomm and MediaTek making processors with 5G modems more accessible to smartphone makers. Those manufacturers will most likely also go overboard in putting more cameras on a phone, though hopefully, they will stop at six at most. Foldables and dual-screen phones will also dish it out in the market, trying to compete for sales even as their prices make it near impossible for many to buy one. If you thought 2019 was a doozy, better buckle up becomes it seems that 2020 will be cooking up a storm.