Battle for premium

Fresh opinion from a person with name and authority. Evan Blass discusses the future of flagships as a segment, comparing the approaches of market leaders and dark horses.


'The top segment Android is not the same.' A person who has been observing consumer electronics for a long time shared this opinion with me. He specifically talked about a new class of manufacturers like OnePlus and Xiaomi who want (and can) sell devices comparable to Samsung's and HTC at lower prices. It was in the context of Samsung's launch of its new products – the Note 5 and S6 + Edge, which are essentially nothing more than enlarged versions of the S6 and S6 Edge released earlier this year, which failed to secure Samsung's record-breaking sales quarter in an effort to regain lost market share.

The whole dispute boils down to the question: will companies like Samsung, HTC and LG stay in the flagship segment, having players in rivals who are ready to offer competitive hardware at a relatively lower price?


At first glance, the doubts are justified, mostly because they describe the current state of affairs: Samsung and especially HTC note a decrease in income (and in the situation with completely relied on smartphones HTC also capitalization falls), as Chinese companies (Xiaomi, Huawei and others) continue their march through the international markets.

Deeper into the question

But if we take a closer look at the top segment, we can actually see that there is still hope for the recent market leaders, which lies in the very essence of the premium smartphone segment. In the abstract, a smartphone is just a collection of components, you can't argue with that. Today it is not so difficult to find these components and assemble a very competitive device, at least on paper. But phones are not just released in a vacuum, so to confirm their class and the cost of flagships, manufacturers use (or should use) many additional tricks.

For example, Apple: A company that rarely offers the best features and best innovations (Retina display is the exception to the rule). But despite the company's reluctance to disclose the characteristics of its smartphones (the clock speed of the processor and the amount of RAM, along with other characteristics, are recognized only through careful analysis and through performance tests), it has secured the title of the most successful smartphone seller in the world.

Why? It's not about the so-called reality distortion that Jobs was talking about, because the best quarters in terms of revenue for Apple happened a few years after Jobs passed away. Some reviewers blame the design, the meticulousness in every detail, the overall look and feel of the devices, which have already become versatile. Apparently, Samsung had similar thoughts, and they prompted the company to release a series of devices made of metal and glass in the style of iPhone 4 in the current model year.

Galaxy S6 edge + _Note5_Black_Gold_2P

Design is undoubtedly one of the reasons for this success, but I tend to trust specialists who cite as one of the big advantages a well-rounded ecosystem created Apple around their products (iTunes, Appstore, etc.) and providing stable operation of each device out of the box. In a world of fragmented hardware and software, this approach is most appealing to those users who don't want to become telephone geeks to get the most out of their devices. Google also understands this and therefore the Play store and the entire ecosystem are under the control of the company, which allows us to eliminate errors typical for a platform with hundreds of different manufacturers. To date, the level of interaction between hardware and software in Android – devices does not reach the level of the offered Apple 'polished' devices, but this is more than enough to 'capture' most of the market.

Samsung's potential weapon

Samsung's attempts to achieve the same level of vertical integration that it seemingly achieves so easily Apple is often clumsy, but the company has something in its arsenal: a high level of technology. For example, the Galaxy S6 Edge has at least three device-exclusive features:

  • the company's upcoming development, the Exynos 7420
  • best-in-class curved AMOLED – unrivaled display in terms of image quality and design
  • USB 2.0 compliant flash memory with blazing fast read and write speeds

These are real tangible advantages over competitors that cannot be replicated in Xiaomi, simply because Samsung manufactures these components and only the best technologies become part of smartphones. If it comes to that, despite the millions of dollars spent on promotion and advertising, it was the marketing strategy that caused the disappointing sales. The once-witty slogan 'Next Big Thing' has already turned into a hackneyed template.

Consumers need more

A similar problem is observed with HTC, as the company tries to stay at the forefront of technical and design ideas, but does not release its own components, like Samsung, but relying on the superpower of persuasion of some heroes from the film industry. This strategy (which, fortunately, the company has finally abandoned) is aimed at pleasing the user base, which is starting to better understand smartphones as a category and understand what they want from them.

In my opinion, it is inappropriate to try to establish all the tricks by which OEMs are trying to stay on their feet in today's hard-edged battle in the smartphone market. But I refuse to believe that all consumers are so frugal that they only need low cost coupled with impressive performance to abandon their usual buying pattern. Similar to how people are willing to pay American Express thousands of dollars a year for the right to own a Black Card with all its privileges and bonuses, there are also many shrewd and well-grounded buyers who do not even reach the spec sheet when choosing a phone. Apple were able to prove that there are surprisingly many of these users, and that the main challenge for manufacturers is to maximize the impact on the sensory perception, rather than focus on cost.

Original article by Evan Blass

Elir: but in my opinion it is inappropriate to be equal to Xiaomi and OnePlus, it is much more productive to support your brand with your own innovations and 'chips', if you like, so that the consumer can see, feel and remember the difference. The 'wow' effect has not yet been canceled, but it passes and the dry residue remains, in which, in the case of Samsung, for example, there are characteristics and capabilities close to top-end (talk, of course, about current and last year's flagships) and the user does not stay with 'broken trough'.
The article focuses on Samsung, but it's too early to write off other manufacturers. I believe that HTC can still return to service, just recently I seriously considered their E9 + as a new smartphone.
Still, reasoning at the level of evleaks is not at all so easy, but the thought that one should not try to imitate Apple is very appealing to me. Let startups do it, first-class designers and engineers of large manufacturers (HTC, LG, Sony, Motorola) can still give them a head start. At least one would like to hope so.
Where do you see a possible 'salvation' for OEM-manufacturers Android – devices?


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