In markets where 5G has launched, the latest wireless broadband standard is shaping up to be the fastest generation of network technology ever adopted. It has become a key growth driver for operators globally not only because of the experiences it enables, but also due to the accessibility and affordability of handsets.
After just two years from launch, 5G smartphones available to consumers include not just premium flagships, but also a robust selection of mid-end and, increasingly, affordable-range devices.
Appealing to young, modern smartphone users, these budget friendly phones come packed with the latest technology and features, including AI-enabled quad-camera imaging systems, premium screens, superior audio, high-performance chipsets and great battery life. We are quickly moving to a world where 5G will be accessible across all segments, enabling more consumers in emerging markets to connect to ultra-fast networks for the first time.
This Whitepaper brings you the story of how smartphone technology has evolved over the generations, the impact it has had on specs and usage, and how things are likely to evolve over time. We deep dive into the state of current adoption across markets, the fast expansion of mid-end segments, design and features trends, and some of the key brands leading in today’s super competitive 5G environment.
Camera is now at the heart of smartphone innovations. It is also the most commonly used feature for smartphone users.
Keeping this in mind, smartphone makers in collaboration with the camera ecosystem have been striving to level up the mobile photography performance with breakthroughs in both hardware specifications and AI-backed software and algorithm development. The fusion of camera and AI is becoming an important trend, enabling a more advanced and differentiated experience.
This trend will further strengthen thanks to the ever-increasing AI computing power in smartphones.
Beijing, Boston, San Diego, Buenos Aires, London, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Seoul – April 21, 2021
Smartphone cameras have become an integral part of everyday usage and one of the most desired features users look for. Therefore, smartphone makers in collaboration with the camera ecosystem have been striving to level up the mobile photography performance with breakthroughs in both hardware specifications and AI-backed software and algorithm development.
Hardware Upgrades in Smartphone Cameras
Ever since the introduction of camera phones in 1999, there has been constant development and improvement in mobile camera performance and specifications, ranging from resolution and pixel technology to multi-lens combination.
Through the past 20 years, the resolution of handset cameras has increased nearly thousandfold, which represents a major trend in camera upgrades. In 2020, smartphones adopting 32-108 megapixels-based rear cameras made up more than one-third of global shipments, and we expect this high-resolution trend to continue.
Exhibit 1: Camera Resolution Development in Mobile Phones
The smartphone market has also seen the increasing uptake of big-pixel, large-area sensors in mid-to-high-end smartphones from Huawei, OPPO, vivo, TECNO and other brands. Thanks to the enlarged optical sensing area, each pixel can take in more light, leading to excellent performance with extremely low noise, greater dynamic range and super-clarity.
Exhibit 2: 50MP 1.2μm Big Pixel Can Highly Enhance ISO Range and Noise Robustness
In addition to the advance in camera resolution, multi-lens deployment in smartphones has become another irreversible trend. In 2020, average CIS contents per smartphone reached over 3.7, with the quad and above camera setup accounting for 29% of the smartphone market. As the multi-camera trend penetrates deeply into lower price segments, the composition ratio of multi-rear cameras is expected to reach over 90% in 2023.
Exhibit 3: Multi-lens Trend Leads to More CIS Contents
AI is Transforming Mobile Photography Experiences
Along with the constant development of camera specs, smartphone brands are also embracing AI to further enhance and enrich mobile photography and videography experiences. TECNO, for instance, with its flagship camera phone CAMON 17 to be launched in May, has been a leading player in combining AI with mobile camera innovations. It has developed an advanced image signal processing system TAIVOS (TECNO AI Vision Optimization Solution), which can enhance photography effects under complex light conditions.
Commenting on the impressive AI enhancements in smartphone cameras, Senior Analyst Ethan Qi said, “AI has enabled a series of exciting camera features such as dynamic object and facial recognition, light recognition and lighting effects, night mode enhancement, AI-based anti-distortion, AI-based stabilization, as well as an intelligent combination of multi-camera lens. With the support of AI, a camera can capture every moment with optimum clarity and richness in detail and colors even in the most challenging environments.”
AI now sits at the heart of portrait and landscape beautification. On top of massive data analysis of human features and life scenes, AI allows a camera to better recognize and understand different scenes and subjects, and deploy adaptable algorithm and optimized camera settings to enhance the image quality. Personalized beautification is also enabled to reflect individual variation with more natural effects.
In the following picture, the AI recognizes the woman and enhances her facial features, increasing sharpness and clarity while softening the intensity of sun rays falling on her face. It also adds a nice bokeh effect to the background, offering a more artistic feeling.
Moreover, new lines of thinking like AI-powered 4K time-lapse video-shooting, “single take” and cinema mode have sprouted to make shooting of photos and videos more fun, flexible and personal, greatly enriching the experience of mobile photography.
We expect the high-resolution and multi-camera trends to continue in 2021, with more sensors featuring 100 million-plus pixels. Meanwhile, AI is also bound to bring massive innovations and new features to smartphone cameras. Regardless of whether mobile phone manufacturers prioritize high-resolution or AI-backed algorithms, or both, consumers can always enjoy an ever-improving user experience.
Section 1 – Camera Function Advances in Smartphones
Section 2 – Enhancing Mobile Photography and Videography Experiences with AI
Section 3 – AI and Big Data Power Personalized, Contextual Experience
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in products in the TMT (technology, media and telecom) industry. It services major technology and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analyses of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are seasoned experts in the high-tech industry.
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