So this is the period of time for hot news and amazing new phones for the industry. The biggest mobile industry event, Mobile World Congress is going on in Barcelona Spain and its the time for big annoucements. The big award winners of the past include the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3, the last Symbian device from Nokia with its monster camera, the 808 Pureview and other mobile tech like Samsung's Galaxy Gear smart watch. And this year? Ho-hum. Mostly missed opportunities in fact. (oh and I was not there this year, I am writing based on press reports)
SAMSUNG PUTS STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
So lets start with Samsung's Galaxy S6 flagship. Always before Samsung would build on past steps with the flagship. The next version was as good or better than the last. It was truly a showcase of the very best in mobile tech. Like Mercedes S Class was to cars or past Nokia N Series was to smartphones. Now we have a bizarre step taken by Samsung of putting Style over Substance. The Galaxy S5 was not pretty but it was packed with tech. The new S6 is yes pretty in a Sony Xperia Z style if you like fingerprints all over your phone - but differing from Sony's Xperia, the Galaxy S6 does not offer waterproofing or a microSD memory card slot (WTF). In fact Samsung has also dropped the removable battery that the previous Galaxy flagship S5 had. So now Galaxy has taken THREE big steps backwards, compared to last year's device. The Galaxy no longer offers microSD slot, no longer is waterproof and no longer offers users the chance to swap the battery (or carry a spare). These were all COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES that Samsung had over the iPhone.
The argument comparing Samsung Galaxy to the iPhone was, which do you want. Lesser specs but a pretty phone, then take the iPhone. Or top-line specs but the uglier phone, then take the Galaxy. What moron accountant in charge of Samsung approved this step to ABANDON competitive advantages and try to make the Galaxy seem like an iPhone, to abandon Samsung's strong suite and go where Apple is strongest. The Galaxy S6 is not new. Its a remake. We'e seen this film before, it is called Nokia Lumia. Nokia in 2011 and 2012 abandoned essentially all areas where Nokia was ahead of Apple (better cameras, bigger screens, more network connectivity, etc) and also abandoned all areas where Nokia offered tech that Apple didn't - microSD slots, QWERTY keyboards, removable batteries, in-built FM radio receivers etc - and manufactured a plasticy neon colored iPhone clone. Abandoning your competitive advantages. What does that get you? Trying to be an iPhone without being Apple? Wanna go ask Nokia Lumia unit how that strategy is going? Oh you can't, it doesn't exist as Nokia anymore, thats now the suicide-watch Lumia division of Microsoft.
Making a Samsung Galaxy S6 appear sexier is not mutually exclusive with high tech. Just look at Sony's Xperia. But Samsung abandoned three areas where it held a clear lead over Apple. Do these matter? A 2014 survey of UK smartphone buyers by uSwitch found that 67% of buyers would prefer a smartphone that was waterproof over one that wasn't. So there is a legitimate competitive advantage that Samsung had that was second biggest factor what British consumers wanted (battery life no suprise came on top) and now Samsung took that away. They HAD this advantage (in the year when their sales faltered over Apple's strong surge). Now they piss on their existing customers who will be quite stunned to find, what? The Galaxy S5 did have a microSD slot, it did have a replacable battery and what!!! the new S6 isn't even waterproof anymore?
Some buyers do indeed want the best looking smartphone. Samsung could easily have had both. Making a great looking smartphone of great materials AND STILL have top tech. Now they went from tech leader to style 'also-ran'. Because nobody is as sexy as the iPhone. Sorry, not on this form factor. Its like the Aston Martin in cars. No matter how much you love a Porsche or Maserati or Ferrari (or haha Corvette), there is only one Aston Martin (while its not necessarily always the best performance sports car).. One of our regular readers on this blog, RottenApple, posted an interesting remark into a previous thread, that after the launch of the Galaxy S6 he asked his friends what they thought and wrote that the best quote he got as a response was "Now this thing is nothing better than an iPhone anymore."
Ok that was a dumb move by Samsung. Will the Samsung Galaxy S6 sell well? I think it will. Will it restore Samsung back to growth in the smartphone market? I really think not. I think this is a colossal mistake of pissing off loyal buyers who will now go to another Android maker. But who?
So the obvious premium luxury smartphone flagship that runs on Android and is top specs including waterproofing and microSD, but also having a very classy stylish glass and metal look is.. Sony Xperia. The Z3 was pretty much 'the answer' to this current Galaxy S6 dilemma if you wanted both style and top specs. So the Z4 was primed for a big Mobile World Congress show to steal the spotlight from the Galaxy. Except that with Sony's financial troubles, they decided to postpone the Z4 until later in the year. What inopportune timing. This could have been the Xperia Spring, with the Z4 on all store windowss and stealing tons of business from the prospective Galaxy buyers. Instead, Sony only brought mid-range phones to Barcelona.
In the past we've seen new flagships by Nokia unveiled at the Mobile World Congress. Now that Samsung is abandoning some of those areas where it had leadership, this could have been the place for Microsoft Lumia (ex Nokia) to show off some hot tech in its brand new flagship and steal some thunder for its loss-making dead-man-walking handset manufacturing unit (that just last week fired another third of the staff it had brought from Nokia). In the past Nokia flagships have led the way to optical zooms, large screens, massive camera sensors, wireless charging, Xenon flashes, etc. Now? Nothing. Two cheap Lumia models and promises that 'at some point' in the future there will be a new Lumia flagship. On Windows 10, whenever that may be ready for the phone.
And on the wasted opportunities, Blackberry could have had a rare moment in the sun if it had bothered to do a proper flagship. It didn't. Blackberry instead showed a smartphone without a camera! When 2014 UK consumer surveys find 99% of smartphone owners use the camera function, and fresh UK market share numbers tell that Blackberry has fallen to 1% share of UK smartphones. This was when they all still had cameras. So Blackberry would rather have 0.01% than 1%? Sure thing, that sounds like a brilliant plan! There are SOME enterprises who would like a smartphone without a camera. If they HAPPEN to be on Blackberry OS (minority of enterprises left) they might buy SOME of their phones with this 'feature'. Most of their staff will need to use the camera for professional reasons anyway so this would be some R&D people maybe. And Blackberry wasted its own R&D for this trivial segment and wasted the chance to do something real in the QWERTY space? To address customers who still love QWERTY. Well, they will not buy a phone in 2015 that doesn't have a camera (or in fact TWO cameras, don't forget selfies). Morons.
Blackberry also showed a mid-range slab phone without QWERTY just touch screen. Now why would anyone want that? Mid-price smartphones exist on Android that run the BBM app that have far better specs, or on similar specs cost far less than this Blackberry. But the one thing all (last, remaining) Blackberry loyalists want is the QWERTY keyboard! Where is Blackberry's obvious solution? A full 5 inch touch-screen WITH a full slider/folder QWERTY physical keyboard? THAT would be a hit. But if any BBM using consumer buys a touch-screen mid-price smartphone now, they won't buy the Blackberry with its pitiful app selection, they will go buy an Android instead. So yeah, Blackberry punted too.
Oh. Want the most disasterous news from Waterloo? The CEO John Chen is now talking that they could do another tablet? WTF? So near corporate suicide was not enough with the first tablet. That was when the tech industry thought stupidly that tablets might outsell smartphones. Now we know better. Now we know that tablet sales are plateauing, and phablet (ie smartphones with large screens) sales have already shot past total worldwide tablet sales in Q4 and will be this year 2015. Tablets are a dumb idea for Blackberry to waste its resources - EVEN MORE SO on the BB OS where tablets already once died. Blackberry could do tablets on Android yeah, but that would signal to everybody that Blackberry will abandon BB OS so that is a non-starter. What is John Chen smoking in Canada? Shut the fuck up you moron. The previous tablet misadventure almost killed the company. What you need - you NEED - is to focus on making smartphones profifably and addressing the needs of your CURRENT customers, to hold onto what little loyalty remains. Not stupid cameraless Blackberries or over-priced Xiaomi-clones or gosh, tablets. How did that square screen go for you, eh? (worst possible screen shape for a phone, maximum wasted space for no gain to actual viewing size ie width). Morons!
HTC AND THE REST
So yeah, HTC has a nice flagship. Who knew they were even alive anymore? They are only relevant in the US market where they are a distant distant distant also-ran. LG plods along with the flexible smartphones, and nobody cares about flexibility enough for this to matter. LG also had some smart watch I guess. Lenovo did a very pretty smartphone that also has essentially nothing technically to differentiate it, except that it 'looks like an expensive camera'.. wow I am so not impressed. Put in an exceptional camera IN it and then lets talk. Now its a decoration, the smartphone is just generic flagship Android class and will not win any cameraphone of year awards. Huawei has some nice new iPhon-a-clones. ZTE offers eyeball scanning security. Gosh I am not impressed. Alcatel felt that what we all needed was a phone we can hold upside down at our ear just incase our face somehow has the mouth over our eyes (I guess this is a problem for some consumers?). But after years of years of the same song by consumers, top request or among tops of what consumers want is better battery life, who dared to stop the supermodel-slimming diet and give us a SLIGHTLY thicker phone with twice the battery life? Not one such flagship. Not one. So do they give us better cameras? Nothing better than what we saw in 2014. Better screens? Nothing better than 2014.
So thats whats up. Nothing. Mostly major brands that punted or worse, Galaxy actually regressed. I do seriously think this signals another bad year for Samsung, this is pissing on their loyal customers many of whom will seek now another brand to go to (from Android family, as Apple doesn't offer waterproofing, microSD or removable batteries). A great opportunity for the fastest of the rivals to jump. If I was at Sony I would fast-track the Z4 launch. And LG, Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, now do the big splash superphone you have on your project plans which had a potential 700 dollar price tag. Launch it now (as long as its waterproof, has microSD and removable battery - or if it doesn't, add the missing piece and rush it to the market).
What does this signal? I think Samsung's switch to doing form at the cost to function is a dumb move, it will hurt their loyalty and market share. They will also face all sorts of hassles now as loyal Samsung owners dump the new S6 into their bathtub and it crashes and they return them angrily to the store.. Expect some sort of Samsung Galaxy S6 'watergate' (haha literally, watergate).
Apple is the BIG winner. MWC has been the time when the big rivals reacted to the new iPhone model of the Autumn and Apple starts to feel the heat, and the demand of the current iPhone models start to drop as buyers start to await the commercial releases of the hot new phones just announced in Barcelona. This year there was nothing ilke that. The competition just abdicated it all to Apple. We won't bother to try to out-compete you on ANY specs, in fact we only make devices even more looking like iPhones with only the same specs as iPhones. Not one radical camera idea. Not one radical screen idea. Not one radical tech idea (except eyeball scanning maybe). Not even a fancy physical QWERTY flagship we used to get from Nokia and Blackberry to challenge the iPhone's purist touch screen form factor. Even 'staples' of competitive advantage that Apple refused to do, like microSD, waterproofing and removable batteries are now being abandoned. If you wanted a big-screen rectangle in your pocket with otherwise mainstream compromise tech, yeah, the iPhone is the best at that. Most expensive but best. Then probably your next best choice is something like a Xiaomi, Coolpad, Micromax, Karbonn, Solo or Xolo or MiFone or MyPhone or Lava or Oppo etc that will give you the pocket rectangle on Android of similar tech but far cheaper cost from a local brand.