If I stop to count how many people I know have a Nexus 5, a Moto G, a BQ Aquaris or a Chinese mobile (Xiaomi, Huawei, OnePlus…), it gives me a bit of vertigo. They are not as accessible brands as Samsung, LG or Sony; they’re not always in your operator’s store, they don’t go out in the canopies. They are flagships of 300 euros or less. Mobiles that cost little, but work well and offer plenty of what the average user asks for. They rely on Qualcomm’s high mid-range performance or the fluidity of the latest Android versions, and adjust the price by designing in plastic.
I’m not here to talk about these new actors, but about how they’re forcing the high end of Android to play the tough «be Apple» game. The game is to make the consumer prefer your product, even if you have to pay double or triple. You can’t compete in price with the Chinese, so to jusseriously the margin you have to offer the best finishes, a lot of R&D in technology and added value in the software. In return, maybe the iPhone will give you some of the benefit cake. We’ve seen it at the MWC 2015: Samsung has released its first Galaxy S unibody at prices very similar to those of the iPhone 6, while HTC still bets on a premium design mobile at 749 euros.
Something is changing at Samsung
I lost track of the times Samsung referenced the iPhone during the presentation of the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. For example, there was a pullyte on the bendgate when they talked about the metal that was used for the phone body (aluminum 6013, used in aviation and 60% stronger than 6063 aluminum, the industry standard). «It doesn’t bend,» they said. The truth is that if you add to this unibody structure the two Gorilla Glass 4 panels and the curves of the Edge, you are facing the first Samsung Galaxy S that can talk about you to you with Apple about design and finishes.
At Samsung they say that what has brought them here has been to listen to the users, but did they mean theirs or those on the iPhone? The Galaxy S6 can’t be opened, it loses the removable battery and the microSD port: this was a hallmark for Samsung and one of the advantages in the storefront while the market trend was the opposite. When HTC and Sony began betting on more stylized designs with built-in batteries, the Koreans limited themselves to «refining» the plastic (or transforming it into sticky leather) and remained in their thirteen with the drum theme; after all, it was a historic advantage over the iPhone and it was beginning to be in front of other Androids.
But not this time. This time they have prioritized the finishes, confusing some of their followers and surprising us all others. Do you get the strategy right? It seems that yes, the managers speak of a very good response from the customers, in reference to the reservations. All this is very significant for Samsung. The Galaxy S are like the «Nokia N95» of this era: the phones that offer you absolutely all the options, from infrared to heart rate sensor. They had never removed options, always added; and yet, with the Galaxy S6 they have taken three steps backwards from the Galaxy S5. How are the changes justified? To Apple:
You can no longer expand storage capacity with a microSD, as before. But in return, if you invest more money, you can enjoy up to 128GB of internal memory. And not just any memory, the fastest flash in the mobile market with UFS 2.0 technology, which destroys the competition in benchmarks.
You no longer have an IP67 level of dust and water resistance; in fact the terminal is much more fragile and slippery, with glass at the front and back. But in return, the design is very attractive and finally gives that premium feeling that many users demand to a phone that goes from 699 to 1049 euros.
You can no longer disassemble the battery because the phone is made of aluminum and glass, and you also don’t go full of battery because the phone is thinner (even the camera sticks out). But in return, it mounts more efficient processor and memory, and incorporates new features such as ultra-fast charging and wireless charging.
A very Apple philosophy in all three cases. And yes, not only does Apple make these moves, other manufacturers have also forgotten the microSD, use aluminum, obsess over lighter and more attractive designs… It’s true, but the S6 thing is no coincidence. Samsung has been on red alert for months because the profits are falling: the Chinese are eating market share down and the iPhone above; Let’s remember that, this Christmas, Apple has sold more phones than Samsung, and that hurts! You had to bet on the winning horse and stop half-gas experiments like the Samsung A range.
Mobile in recent years: offer the best possible sensations, even if they penalize the price (the Galaxy S6 Edge starts at 849 euros). Mobile in recent years: offer the best possible sensations, even if they penalize the price (the Galaxy S6 Edge starts at 849 euros). Not only in construction and materials, as in the Samsung A range; Not only in construction and materials, as in the Samsung A range; the eight-core SoC Exynos 7420 developed by Samsung ranks or better than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 (next market standard), they have lightened TouchWiz instead of adding more bloatware and have opted for a universal technology for their system of the eight-core SoC Exynos 7420 developed by Samsung ranks or better than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 (next market standard), they have lightened TouchWiz instead of adding more bloatware and have opted for a universal technology for their system of Payments.Payments.
Plastic has died, long life to aluminum
The entire high-end is being passed to the aluminum unibody. It does not mean that mobiles have the entire body of aluminum, but are designed on a unique metal structure that makes them lighter, stronger and more premium. It happened on Windows Phone with the Lumia 930 and Android with HTC One and Sony Xperia Z. The Xperia Z3, like the Galaxy S6, has an aluminum body and two glass panels.
It would be missing LG, who actually studied an aluminum casing for its latest flagship, but discarded it. Will it be the LG G4 aluminum? We’ll know in April, but since the company advances that the design is going to be radically different from the G3. If the «hypothesis» with which I opened this item is valid, LG will have to dispose of the plastic to justify the flagship price (‘Apple price’), if it will not happen again as with the LG G3, which is already at half its original price less than a year after its p resation.
The same is the same in the tablet world, which is an even more complicated market for these manufacturers. Here Samsung and company not only have to face the level of engineering offered by Apple at a tight price with the Air 2 (that screen, that thickness and that solid experience), but also to the strength of the brand iPad, the Coca-Cola of tablets. Again the options are: throw away the prices or pull R&D.
The other point of view
During the MWC, the media was able to meet with Rick Osterloh, president of Motorola (now at Lenovo) who left this message to the big manufacturers. I think the event reflects very well the situation of the market, with new players like Motorola sweeping at low price (with terminals that work very well) and the high end reaching 1000 euros for models with more memory. Do we really need curved screens, anodized aluminum, fingerprint sensor? Is the price of this new high-end price justified?
In the last quarter 74.8 million iPhones were sold, it is clear that for some users it is a justified investment. But it is no longer worth incorporating the best processor and neglecting the design, it is about offering the best possible sensations even if you have to take the opposite to some customers, as Apple has been doing since 2007. Again, the game is to make the consumer prefer your product, even if you have to pay double or triple. Otherwise, you’re eaten by the Chinese.