Notch appeal? Smartphone sales set to bounce back this year

After smartphone sales shrank for the first time ever in the fourth quarter, Gartner is more optimistic. The firm sees a big bump in 2020 thanks to AI.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read

Now everyone's doing the notch thing. 

Sarah Tew/CNET, edited by Ian Knighton/CNET

The smartphone business may not have peaked after all. 

Smartphone sales fell year over year for the first time in the fourth quarter, leading industry watchers to ponder if it had passed its prime. It's a lot harder to get excited about phones nowadays, with each subsequent version coming with a slight tweak to design and better internal specs. 

But, it turns out, that slip may have been a hiccup. Gartner said Thursday that it expects smartphones shipments to grow 1.6 percent this year and 5 percent next year. The firm is more bullish on 2020, when artificial intelligence matures and drives a new wave of demand. 

"This is not just about making the smartphone smarter, but augmenting users by reducing their cognitive load and enabling a 'Digital Me' that sits on the device," said Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta. 

While smartphones have changed little over the year, Apple did add a wrinkle with the controversial "notch" on its iPhone X. It's a hate-it-or-love-it feature, but one that competitors like Huawei and Asus are already copying. LG and OnePlus are rumored to be adding a notch to their next flagship phones as well. The iPhone X's notch, while technically a design compromise to offer a place for its cameras to sit, has come to be linked with the idea of a premium smartphone

That's why you're starting to see it everywhere. 

Gartner said that consumers are holding on to their phones even longer now, especially in the premium category. That means the notch will be sticking around for a while.