Since the inception of the first smartphone IBM Simon in 1992, mobile phone hardware has been shaped by our content needs in computing, firstly with processing chips for email and news. A decade later, mobile phone hardware saw its first built-in camera. Smartphone hardware has always been playing a catch-up game with the content consumption use cases stemming from personal computing devices, such as laptops, cameras, and music players. Today, we’re seeing a different dynamic.
As of last year, smartphone penetration reached a third of the world, and now these users are shaping their habits around the phones themselves. When you pull out your smartphone to shoot a video, do you find yourself shooting vertically, or do you flip the phone 90-degrees to a landscape orientation? Five years ago, you might have turned the phone on its side. Nowadays, vertical video is a popular and immerse format that fully utilizes the display of your smartphone.
Alongside the smartphone hardware itself, other industry developments create a set of parameters that shape how we think about content – from 4G networks, graphics display resolution, computing chip power, thin yet powerful batteries, to GPS functionality, and more. This system now beckons content creators to shape their content around these systems – here are a few examples of how this is being done.
Mobile-first layout: the vertical 9:16 video
The cinematic, horizontal video we have known for more than a century is being flipped on its side, literally. Vertical, or portrait content captured in 9:16 aspect ratio, is a native format popularized by platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram Stories, IGTV, TikTok (formerly Musical.ly), and YouTube. Created to match the viewing and shooting orientation of smartphones, the vertical video has shown to drive higher user engagement metrics. This format is favored by mobile users who can experience clear and zoomed-in videos filled edge-to-edge on 4.7 to 5.5 inch displays.
Emerging 360-degree formats still require special software and hardware
Consumer 360 cameras for as low as $100 make it accessible for consumers to shoot videos that capture everything around them. Given the lack of file format support on smartphones, content creators must shoot and edit content with the end distribution platform in mind. For example, a creator looking to post to YouTube will need to modify the file before uploading. Given that most users do not own a virtual reality headset, most 360-degree video content must be offered in 2D, which creators must keep in mind for video aesthetics.
Augmented reality is simplified for your smartphone
While smartphone cameras are powerful enough to enable augmented reality experiences through apps running Apple’s ARKit or Google’s Android ARCore, they still lack the processing power of standalone AR hardware. Standalone headsets have the multi-cameras, sensors, and dedicated computing that enables more responsive gameplay and advanced content interactions. For now, given that smartphones are well adopted by consumers, developers are starting with the mobile platform to offer lightweight experiences such as gaming with Pokemon Go, and useful utility apps like iOS Measure.
Rise of the home-produced video as the standard
The film “Searching” by Aneesh Chaganty is a full-screen Hollywood production that mimics the look and feel of an iPhone-shot video in its clips where the protagonist is in front of the computer and communicating with other characters via mobile. In an attempt to match the aesthetic of what mobile users are familiar with, content creators from Johnson & Johnson to your favorite YouTube influencer will want their content to feel realistic and genuine, which means they will shoot in native mobile.
While our cameras shoot in ultra-high resolution and sky high frames-per-second, most smartphone displays will playback in 720P to 1080P. Hardware is quickly changing to meet these needs, as some newer models of smartphones such as Sony’s Xperia Z5. However, these gains will be marginally incremental in the coming years. Each year with the release of new iPhones, we’ll see fewer giant leaps in performance gains, but instead, we see hybrid innovation from the content ecosystems themselves. Perhaps holographic 3D displays aren’t too far off, and our favorite content creators will follow suit to match with innovative content.