The tech industry is funny. When cellphones first started going mainstream, they were huge. Remember bag phones? And then the monstrosity simply referred to as a brick phone? Man, those things were modern marvels; ugly ones at that.
Then as technology allowed, phones went in the opposite direction they got smaller. I remember seeing a cell phone so small it could fit on a keyring. It was fully functional, and had the ability to text (this was before camera phones).
Then over time phones have gone, again, the opposite way and have started to get bigger. Look at the newly announced Samsung Galaxy Mega. It’s a 6.3-inch phone. That’s right, a phone almost the same size of the Nexus 7, Google’s flagship tablet.
These devices, commonly referred to as “phablets” are for a demographic of users I haven’t quite figured out yet. But with devices as big as the Note II (5.5-inch) selling, I suppose companies have to push the limits to see where consumers will stop buying. I don’t get it, but I digress.
With that said, the trend is already starting to be back to the smaller device market. HTC has a flagship device, the HTC One that comes in at a 4.7-inch display. A few months after the launch and raving reviews about the device, HTC announced the HTC One Mini, which looks identical to the HTC One, but it has a 4.3-inch screen and is smaller all around. Huh?
Look at Samsung and the Galaxy S 4, which has a 5-inch screen, and has also been tremendously successful (as has the entire Galaxy line from Samsung over the last couple of years). Shortly after the S 4 launched, Samsung announces the Galaxy Mini S 4, with a 4.3-inch screen and overall smaller footprint. Again: huh?
What’s the point of selling a flagship device, such as the One or S 4, and then follow it up with a smaller device, with lower specs?
The simple answer? Price.
The average consumer doesn’t care about camera quality, number of processor cores, screen size or any of that other garbage often thrown out by tech companies to impress. (I call it garbage, because to the average person it’s just that. To the tech-inclined, those numbers can make or break a purchasing decision).
When a device is made with a slower processor, a smaller screen, and overall lower specs, the cost of manufacturing goes down, thus the price extended to the consumer goes down. Having different levels of pricing across a product lineup naturally makes sense. The low to mid-range smartphone market has long been overrun by poor quality Android handsets. One could even argue this fact is what has given Android such a large market share since it’s launch.
Even Apple has noticed this pricing strategy and has been offering older model iPhones for a lower cost after a new model launches, but that’s about to change. Numerous reports and leaks have all but confirmed Apple will be releasing two different iPhone models this month a revamped iPhone 5 (possibly 5S), and a lower-tier iPhone 5C (as the rumor mill goes). The “C” doesn’t stand for cheap, as many have joked, but instead it appears to stand for color. That’s right, for the first time in the iPhone’s history it seems you’ll be able to purchase an iPhone in a color other than black or white. The device itself will carry the same screen size as the current iPhone 5, but it will have a plastic back.
This entry-level device, will sell for a lot less than Apple’s flagship iPhone 5S. Offering first time smartphone owners, hesitant to spend $200 on a device they aren’t convinced they’ll even use, a iOS option instead of just a cheap Android option. Not to mention the benefits a cheaper device offers in foreign, pre-paid markets where low cost phones rule the land.
Samsung, HTC, Apple are fully aware of the need to gain more market share and stay relevant. With the high end smartphone market being completely saturated with numerous handsets and models (see the Galaxy Mega if you don’t believe me), there’s only one logical place for them to attempt to compete the low end market.
Expect to see some devices getting smaller, and specs not to matter (let alone mentioned at press events) anymore. Instead of selling a device based on the fact it has a quadruple-quintuplet core processor (one of which doesn’t exist), manufacturers are going to show you how quickly a phone can snap a photo, or what benefits this will have on your daily life. How will it make a task easier on the end user? The answer to that question will be what sells smartphones going forward.
In a sense, this is good, companies will produce meaningful features instead of adding nonsense to a device just for bragging rights (I’m looking at you Samsung).
By Jason Cipriani. @mrcippi