It has been a strange week in the smartphone world… and I’m not talking about the hideous acts of people punching their way to a cheap Black Friday deal.
No, I’m talking about the winds of change and the potential for a new direction as 2014 draws to a close.
There were three reports over the last few days, which taken in isolation probably wouldn’t mean all that much. However, they arrived in such close proximity, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.
Earlier this week speculation began circulating Apple planned to discontinue the iPhone 5C following a disappointing run as a ‘cheaper, but not cheap’ alternative to the premium handset.
Meanwhile, there was talk of high-level panic at Samsung, where it seems heads may roll because profits are way down and the Galaxy S5 has sold 40 per cent less than expected. Apparently there’s millions of ‘em gathering dust in warehouses right now.
Finally, we got word from Sony that its plan for the next three years would involve releasing considerably fewer smartphones. The firm says it is prepared to shed 30 per cent of sales in order to cut losses at both ends of the market.
So is it a coincidence these reports all came together? I don’t think so. Does it signal the end of the halcyon age of the smartphone? Again, I don’t think so.
However 2015 I think they signify the dawn of a, shall we say, different era in the mobile world.
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For a start, we’ve probably seen the last of the scattergun approach companies like Samsung and Sony have deployed recently.
These companies have been pumping out so many non-descript variants of their devices in order to appeal to every possible sector of the market, the focus on the flagships has lessened and sales are falling.
Sony’s baffling tactic of releasing a new flagship Xperia Z device, with tiny incremental updates, every six months has been a miserable failure for the company. People want to be wowed by big specs when buying a new smartphone. A ‘little bit better’ certainly isn’t exciting them.
We’ve come so far with smartphones in such a short space of time that it’s hard enough making the case for tangible, real world improvements every 12 months, let alone every six. Surely, it’ll be one a year from now on?
The companies’ bids to own the lower end of the market have also come a cropper. Firstly the mid-range handsets are nowhere near cheap enough. Sony and Samsung are being undercut by the likes of Motorola who’re offering great specs at a budget price. At the lower end, the big guns just can’t afford to compete with the multitude of emerging Chinese manufacturers.
The result is, companies like Samsung are seeing profit margins shrink and sales fall at both ends of the market, an anomaly that’s entirely unsustainable going forward.
I’m certain a more considered approach, which HTC took couple of years ago, would benefit the likes of Samsung and Sony going into 2015.
One step in the right direction would be an end to the display size wars, which led to these firms throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something would stick
Can’t we just all agree that phablets look ludicrous if they’re a mosquito’s nostril hair larger than 5.5-inches? Surely we’ve established the optimum size for a normal smartphone should sit somewhere be 4.7- and 5.0-inches?
All of that brings us neatly to Apple and its rumoured decision to cut the 4-inch iPhone 5C from its line up. That phone has always felt like the Jon Snow of the smartphone world. The well-meaning bastard son Lady Stark was begrudgingly forced to raise.
SEE ALSO: Apple iPhone 5C review
We pestered and pestered Apple to launch a “budget iPhone,” but with its pedigree roots the firm just couldn’t lower itself to go all the way.
Tim Cook got stuck somewhere in the middle by dressing an iPhone 5 in some colourful plastic threads and skimming a few quid off the price. It’s little wonder it failed to engage consumers.
By cutting the device from the iPhone line up, it seems Apple’s little smartphone experiment with the lower end of the market may be over. I certainly don’t see an iPhone 6C arriving on the scene next September, do you?
With all that considered, we should be looking at a much clearer landscape in 2015. There’ll be less distracting clutter, less pointless experimentation with screen sizes, better deals for consumers as competition hots up at the lower end and more focus on improvement and innovation within the devices we know and love.
It’s time for manufacturers to stop tinkering with the squad and send out their best team. With that strategy, the likes of Sony and Samsung can return to winning ways in 2015.
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