Lack of Focus and Decreasing Utility-Cost in Smartphones

We have been seeing developments in the smartphone industry thanks to the progress made in digital technology. But the industry is near saturation at this point. This virtual membrane will brake. But when?

Why is it there though? I think because of the gradual shift from consumer based approach to product based approach. Technology is being pushed, or rather dumped, into phones and the projects are handed to marketing teams for heavy promotion, thereby adding to the cost. Why not focus on software instead?

I don’t prefer Apple products, but I do commend them on efficiency in handling their product lines, when compared to other companies, especially in the smartphone segment. These days phones don’t slow down over time as much as they used to. Software makes the difference. That’s one of the reasons that Google Pixel line and OnePlus’s phones have gathered followings the way they have.

This is not to say that they are perfect. The larger phones in these lines do not make sense. The only large phone line that makes sense is Samsung’s Galaxy Note line. This is because of some attention to one handed use and to the extras like the stylus. There’s a reason it started the “Phablet” segment. It’s more than just a phone. When customers buy a big phone like that, they expect something more; and not in the form of extra cameras, but in the form of extra utility and productivity.

A large screen is not just to consume content. If it claims to deliver more with more power, it should be able to do so. A stylus, for example does help with signing documents, with precision when creating content like photographs and videos. Thereby making the phone suitable for power users.

Now I am a power user, and if I were to get a large phone, I would go for a Galaxy Note. But I would rather go with a smaller phone that can be handled with one hand without heavy manuvering. At this point the smaller ones that make sense are Samsung’s Galaxy S, Google’s Pixel and Apple’s iPhone. These are “mobile” phones. What’s the point if they are not mobile?

Talking about large, why is there a competition for a higher screen to body ratio? A higher screen to body ratio is good. It achieves efficiency, gives more screen in a “smaller” form factor. But at some point it creates more issues than it solves. The notches and holes do take up part of the screen, thereby obstructing what should be displayed on the screen. Tiny notches were fine when they were introduced by startups like Essential. They have a relatively smaller target segment. Buy why mainstream phones? Even more so, why the ones positioned to be for the power users? Imagine someone editing a photograph or a video and missing data in that part of the screen.

We do, however, have some companies attempting solutions to this, by way of moving parts in the phone. This does reduce the structural integrity of the phone, but these are the “new”. Even though they may look like a step backward, they are a step towards a solution. Hey, we are buying phones without IP rating, right? It is commendable.

Coming to IP rating, we are focusing on “premium” designs even though they serve no purpose. Why not give a waterproofing? You will not have to use a glass back, if you have no intention of incorporating Wireless Charging, and you will still maintain lesser brittleness (assuming you go with a metal frame). To clear things up, premium designs are important in flagship and near models, as the consumers are paying high price for them and expect as such. If you have to look at something repeatedly throughout the day for months or years, the sight better be pleasing.

Then comes the lack of proper segmentation. There are so many product lines that it’s not clear which one is the ideal choice for what type of consumer group. Let’s start with flagships. Why? Because even the flagships are not able to satisfy a consumer to a decent degree; there’s always something missing, which then leads to failure in justifying their price tag. For example, if you are releasing two flagships a year (OnePlus), why not differentiate them properly, instead of releasing two just to keep the hype up? Then there are companies like Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, etc. having numerous product lines. Go with two flagships – a regular or small sized which does not compromise on the specs and a larger one which also has more features to justify the higher price tag. Then coming to mid range, we can have products targeted to media enthusiasts with large screen, or those targeted towards the budget or utility conscious which will have the mid range specs for the consumers to properly carry out their usual everyday tasks, and so on.

And why are we not stressing on after sales service. Only a few companies like Apple and Samsung are giving some importance to this. And what about a good battery? “Lasts a full day” is not good enough, as the implication is from morning to evening, not 24 hours. How about putting in a good high capacity battery instead of chasing thinner and thinner design? The thinness is enough after a point. Even Tech Reviewers, the primary influencers, are not covering these subtle aspects in their reviews. Only a few cover how a phone ages or have a standard test to measure how good the battery life is, and so on.

Thus, I would say that, at present, there is a lack of focus in the industry as a whole and the Utility to Cost Ratio is going down for the consumers. I have not gone through the income statements of any companies, but I have read that the industry is facing a significant dip in the revenue growth, even with the increasing product lines and higher price tags. It makes you wonder, if we are missing something.

I do think, however, that “new” things are on their way. Like Vivo launching a smartphone with dual screens (front and back) as a way to eliminate the need of front camera thus making the “full” screen make more sense, at the same time adding more functionality to the device; and Samsung and Huaweii launching foldable touchscreen smartphones. Then there is LG, which recently showcased its transparent display technology, which we may see, in near future, being implemented in consumer oriented devices.

Let’s see where it goes. What do you think?

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