After AI surge, AI smartphones key in 2024?

The AI smartphone trend in 2024: Spotlight on leading innovations.

In 2023, Artificial Intelligence became the buzzword within the tech community, attracting both established and emerging players. By 2024, this trend continued to soar. Sam Altman, the founder of OpenAI, set a lofty goal to secure funding between $50 and $70 trillion for an AI chip project. Following this, OpenAI released a video generation model named “Sora,” which sparked widespread global debate.

While notable strides were being made internationally, domestic brands in China were not falling behind. On the first working day after the Spring Festival, OPPO’s founder and CEO, Chen Mingyong, announced in an internal letter that OPPO had established an AI center to concentrate resources on accelerating AI development, positioning the company to lead and popularize AI smartphones.

On the morning of February 18th, Meizu’s official Weibo account posted a message announcing Meizu’s decision to go All in on AI, discontinuing traditional “smartphone” projects. Meizu indicated plans to revamp its Flyme OS around an AI strategy, create a new generation of AI terminal devices, and fully open its platform to global large-scale model teams, actively embracing top international teams like OpenAI to build a new AI ecosystem.

MEIZU official Weibo announcement of its AI focus.

As the Year of the Dragon commenced, phone manufacturers scrambled to embrace AI in their smartphones, hinting at 2024 as the year AI smartphones might set the new direction for the industry.

01 All in AI — Is it finally the smartphone’s turn?

The emergence of ChatGPT spurred a new wave of AI investment across the globe, with industry-leading companies meticulously planning their approach. Undeniably, a key trend is that AI is poised to redefine virtually every industry.

For a significant period, the smartphone industry seemed relatively subdued. But as of 2024, there’s a strong possibility this year will be billed as the inaugural year of AI smartphones.

Looking back, since the second half of 2023, mainstream smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, Xiaomi, vivo, Samsung, OPPO, and Honor have all vied for dominance in the AI model space.

In August 2023, Huawei officially upgraded to HarmonyOS 4.0, which marked its first full integration of the Pangu large-scale AI model across multiple smartphone applications. Huawei fired the starting shot for AI phones, unleashing an irresistible AI wave in the smartphone arena.

Two months later, Xiaomi announced its self-developed AI large-scale model “MiLM-6B” for Surge OS, giving its virtual assistant Xiaoice capabilities such as text generation and AI image expansion.

In November, vivo first unveiled its self-developed AI “BlueHeart model,” followed by OPPO announcing the inclusion of its “Andes model” in ColorOS 14. By January 2024, Honor released its proprietary 7-billion parameter AI model “Magic Model.”

vivo official Weibo announcement of its AI advancements.

On January 18th of this year, Samsung unveiled a series of smartphones integrating numerous AI features during a global product launch. These features mainly include intelligent photo editing, AI-powered call translation, smart object search capabilities, and superior photography performance.

Shortly after the 2024 Spring Festival, both OPPO and Meizu eagerly announced their ventures into AI smartphones. Major brands are now busy preparing to launch their first AI smartphones, with even the typically discreet Apple reportedly on the move. Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo revealed that the next-generation iPhone 16 could potentially be Apple’s first AI smartphone.

In recent years, the smartphone industry’s competition has primarily focused on the hardware, with upgrades nearing their limit and innovations like foldable screens showing signs of peaking. AI’s transformation across industries appears to offer smart devices a new direction. At the end of 2023, Canalys forecasted that AI smartphones would make up 5% of the total smartphone shipments in 2024. Meanwhile, IDC data showed a 3.2% year-on-year decline in the global smartphone market, presenting a challenge that manufacturers are keen to address.

The rise of AI has shifted the smartphone race from a hardware scramble to a battle over software applications. This indicates that the next competitive focus for smartphones could very well rest in the AI domain.

Yet, a pertinent question arises for discerning industry observers: What are the advantages of AI smartphones, and what do they mean to consumers? Could they represent a transformative product for the smart device market?

02 AI Smartphones — When and how will they enter reality?

Despite the industry’s push, many consumers still lack a clear understanding of AI smartphones.

ProOne discovered through consumer interviews that while many have “heard of AI,” there’s confusion regarding the difference between a regular smartphone and an AI smartphone. Some even question whether there’s any difference at all, noting that many standard smartphones already possess AI features.

Which begs another question: Do consumers truly need AI smartphones right now?

The answer remains unclear. However, some consumers expressed interest, particularly in regards to photo and video capabilities. They might consider an AI smartphone if it offers better value for money.

Consumers also have their own expectations for AI smartphones. They envision devices rich in features such as automatic note-taking and formatting of meetings, auto image-editing and object removal, smarter content recognition and search, AI-enhanced messaging, and automated summarization of notes. Essentially, many users are not just seeking smarter phones but smarter personal assistants.

For example, OPPO’s Find X7 series emphasizes AI in its camera experience and smart calling features. Its AI can recognize and remove unwanted figures from photographs and automatically transcribe and highlight calls, which is particularly beneficial for professionals handling extensive textual information.

Xiaomi’s AI extends into creative imaging. Its 14 series integrates local AI models into the Surge system, supporting AI-powered features like ‘AI Sketch’, ‘AI Image Search’, ‘AI Portrait’, and ‘AI Image Expansion’. The AI Image Expansion feature can generate images locally in as little as six seconds, a capability most photography enthusiasts can’t resist.

However, there are also consumer concerns regarding privacy with AI smartphones. The convenience of AI also brings about potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited, cautioning some to wait for further technological advancements before adopting such devices.

It’s evident that technological innovations will face scrutiny and challenges. From a future perspective, AI technology may significantly enhance smartphone performance and user experience, yet it also raises concerns about privacy and surveillance in our daily lives.

03 AI Smartphones — A New Revolution in Mobile Devices?

OPPO’s founder, Chen Mingyong, declared: “2024 is the inaugural year of AI smartphones. In the next five years, AI’s impact on the mobile industry could rival the transformative effect smartphones had when they replaced feature phones. Through AI, we can remake the smartphone experience to deliver greater value to users and bring us a step closer to a truly intelligent lifestyle.”

OPPO official Weibo announcement of its AI smartphone vision.

This is a profound claim. The evolution of phones has gone through three stages: pagers, feature phones, and smartphones. Each shift has aligned with the present development patterns, influencing the future trajectory of mobile technology.

Smartphones completely overturned feature phones, triggering a mobile internet revolution with far-reaching impacts on human activity and lifestyles. The idea that AI smartphones could supersede smartphones is not about mere camera upgrades or design changes; it represents a seismic shift in the industry.

In ProOne’s view, the success of AI in reshaping the smartphone experience is critical in assessing its potential for revolutionizing the industry.

From the current products available, there seems to be no fundamental distinction between AI smartphones and traditional smartphones, making it difficult to claim a replacement scenario. For many consumers, there’s no visible difference between the two, prompting no immediate desire to switch to AI smartphones.

Introducing AI to smartphones is not about creating something out of nothing but adding efficiency to existing technology. This implies that AI smartphones may not replace traditional smartphones with the same urgency and disruptiveness as smartphones once replaced feature phones.

However, there is reason to believe that as the wheels of history turn, the advancements in technology will unfold in spectacular ways. Whether or not AI smartphones will become a replacement for smartphones may only be confirmed through the ongoing evolution of technology. For now, it seems that this new era is in its infancy.

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