Mobile devices like smartphones are often categorized as consumer devices, and yet they’re really crossover machines that impact the enterprise space and worker productivity in many industries. Smartphone trends, therefore, are worth watching when considering the future of work, since the smart devices and applications that become ubiquitous in the consumer realm become part of the business world whether companies like it or not. Perhaps the best stance is to recognize how mobile connected devices are making life easier for employees in their personal lives and find ways to leverage that technical know-how into the workplace to streamline processes and enhance collaboration and productivity.

Smartphone sales were among the many sales categories that tanked during 2020, but Gartner says global smartphone sales are looking up in 2021. New data suggests sales to end users grew 26% in the first quarter of 2021 as consumers once again began spending on discretionary items, Gartner says. 5G will impact continued sales in the smartphone sector, with smartphone manufacturers like Samsung shipping 5G-capable devices like the Galaxy Z Fold3 5G and the Galaxy Note20 5G—which the company markets as a “powerphone” and a “multitasking computer suite” suited for remote work and ultimate productivity on the go. Apple also announced its first 5G iPhone in October last year, which has boosted demand through the beginning of 2021. The rest of the year will continue to see growth thanks to the rollout of 5G devices from major smartphone manufacturers.

Molex’s latest survey, “The Future of Mobile Devices” suggests OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers) and suppliers believe consumers will adopt more smart devices in the coming years. More than half (68%) say the average consumer will have more smart devices in 2026 than he does today. An overwhelming majority of OEMs and suppliers also expect mobile devices to evolve in ways they can’t yet predict between now and 2026—perhaps partly due to remote and hybrid work trends in the workplace that began in 2020 because of the pandemic and will continue in 2021 and beyond.

How will devices evolve? Molex reports 72% of OEMs and suppliers believe smart glasses will become the “typical consumer device,” but it will take two or more decades before this is true. In fact, about two-thirds see the demand for novel wearables like smart clothing (40%), glasses (33%), earpieces (29%), and watches (29%) will grow. Innovations in data connectivity, wireless charging, and cameras are also likely to drive the mobile-device market into the future. 5G is going to play an important role too. 42% of respondents in Molex’s survey say 5G is the technology that’s most likely to drive significant disruption in smartphone manufacturing in the next several years. In fact, 82% of respondents say they expect consumers to reap significant benefits from 5G-enabled mobile devices by 2026.

Other disruptive technologies OEMs and suppliers anticipate include self-charging technology, holographic or projection displays, fully recyclable formfactors, environment-proof designs, no-break displays, and health biosensors, among others. As the future of work unfolds in the wake of the pandemic, it’ll be interesting to see how consumer mobile devices become even more prominent in enabling work-from-home and other remote or hybrid work scenarios. Will the smartphone become a remote employees’ No.1 tool, if it is not already? If so, how will these devices evolve? Will another type of device, like smart glasses, become the mobile device of choice for productivity in a couple of decades? How can enterprises prepare for this shift? It’s worth considering now.

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