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Which devices do consumers value most? Smartphones and flat-panel TVs are on top right now, but allegiances are always shifting, which is why companies need to keep pace with technology to maintain market advantage.
Our examination of consumer device preferences over the past decade uncovered some interesting trends. While the popularity of certain technology gadgets rose, the perceived value of other devices fell, with some devices completely fading into obscurity.
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The winner. More than any other technology device, the smartphone defined the 2010s: The proportion of US consumers who ranked it as their most valued device grew from 6 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2019. That surge made smartphones the decade’s most important device, with a huge lead over the runner-up device (flat-panel TV) by 2019. Smartphones’ popularity was even higher among Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X, with more than 40 percent of these consumers ranking them as their most preferred device at decade’s end. Close to a third (32 percent) of Gen Z and millennials spend four or more hours per day on their smartphones.1
The ones that lost favor. Due to technology advancements and changing consumer behaviors, several devices—the basic mobile phone, portable music players, non-flat-panel TV, and the DVR—disappeared from the top 10 list over the past decade. While the exploding popularity of smartphones doomed basic mobile phones and portable music players, the rise of streaming drove the decline in DVR popularity.2 In addition, the arrival of smart TVs made non-flat-panel TVs obsolete.
The survivors. At the start of the previous decade, desktop and laptop computers ranked first and second, respectively, in terms of perceived value. While both experienced a significant decline in popularity over the course of the decade, smartphones didn’t fully replace the functionality offered by laptops and desktops, particularly in the business market. As a result, while just 13 percent of consumers rated them as their most valued device in 2019, laptops still rank third overall (tied with desktops). The flat-panel TV is another device that earned a strong ranking in 2019 after experiencing a series of twists and turns earlier in the decade. The revival of flat-panel TVs can be at least partially attributed to the emergence of streaming devices and internet-connected TVs. It’ll be interesting to see if these flat-panel TVs, laptops, and desktops can hold their places over the next decade.
It should surprise no one to see technology adoption and consumer behaviors shift dramatically over the course of a decade, though it’s striking that the combined market caps of the two largest US smartphone platform players grew from US$575 billion in 2010 to US$2.3 trillion in 2019.3 These trends also highlight why incumbents can’t afford to become complacent.
In the coming decade, new technologies and devices will likely replace older ones to take their places in the top 10. Voice-assisted control, for example, is one such technology that shows considerable promise (voice-enabled home digital assistants made their first appearance on the list in 2018). AR/VR is another area that could see rapid growth in coming years. The next decade could see the emergence of new consumer gadgets backed by technologies such as 5G. In fact, CES 2020 gave us a glimpse into the future by showcasing emerging devices such as robotic companions, smart noise-canceling earbuds/headphones, foldable and curved displays, live-casting devices (for influencers), in-vehicle entertainment gadgets, and even a meditation trainer.4 Could one of them make it to the top 10?
This future promises excitement for both executives and consumers. But the inevitable wave of breakthroughs means that technology, media, and telecommunications companies need to maintain constant vigilance to keep pace with the technology and consumer behavioral changes happening around them. Failing to take or keep the lead in transformation may mean losing market advantage to a disruptor.