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Everyone would benefit from fewer smartphone models

Everyone would benefit from fewer smartphone models

This week we celebrate the 20th anniversary of smartphones. In August of 1996, the Nokia Communicator appeared and ushered in a new era of mobile digital communications. Due to the high selling price, hardly anyone noticed. But we still feel the effects of this revolution today.

A lot has changed in 20 years: Nokia sold its mobile phone division and neither a folding screen nor any new mobile phone functions enticed buyers. The battle for market share has shifted to the middle class of smartphones. You can now spend $100, $200 or several hundred – it's your choice.

Product cycles in the mobile sector used to be short. Sometimes manufacturers presented a new generation every six months. Those days are gone, thankfully. But today we still see a constant stream of new smartphones that sometimes overlap in their new features.

AndroidPIT IT Samsung Galaxy s6 edge vs s7 edge 1471
Besides the less-protruding camera, what has changed with the S7 Edge? / © ANDROIDPIT

Manufacturers naturally want to sell products. And the pressure of competition in the smartphone market is high. Better, faster and more new features – this mantra continuously heckles the producers of devices. But someone who needs an everyday smartphone and can do without frills – such as VR – does not need a new smartphone every year.

Many markets do not need annual upgrades

In many markets, it would hardly make a difference if manufacturers reduced the range of models. Samsung, for example, releases new premium smartphones every year. Honestly, a significant difference between the Note 7 and the S7 Edge is virtually non-existent. The S7 Edge negates the need for the launch of the Note 7. So why develop it at all?

Lenovo: meaningful and less meaningful hardware upgrades

Another example of this is Lenovo. Instead of a new generation of the Moto G in 2016, why not just continue making the Moto G 2015 cheaper and more efficiently? An official price reduction coupled with sales momentum and investment in the construction and development of this single smartphone could be spread out over two years instead of just one.

From my perspective, Lenovo (who now own Motorola) can skip a generation in the Moto G and not miss a beat. The current Moto G generation could technically be based on the Moto X Play. In this case, Lenovo could save itself some trouble.

AndroidPIT Moto G4 Plus vs Moto X Play 4406
Moto G4 vs. Moto X Play - why? / © AndroidPIT

Fewer smartphone models would facilitate better software support. If a manufacturer can sell its mid-range 2015 device a year later the software development would really pay off as the updates could be rolled out to a larger customer base rather than split with the next year's device.

Apple does it this way; older iPhones remain for sale but with a small price reduction.

As a platform, Android would benefit from fewer smartphone models

Fewer smartphones would give the Android platform more advantages. In addition to the lame update supply for most smartphones, the sheer amount of different smartphone models is also a problem.

A graphic that OpenSignal created in August 2015 shows this dilemma.

device fragmentation android opensignal
August 2015: the market share for individual smartphones. / © OpenSignal

In particular, this is a huge problem for app developers. Many different versions of Android are available for just one manufacturer. To play it safe, app developers test their applications on all smartphones. But this is hardly optimal, and sometimes bugs occur.

There's light at the end of the tunnel: product cycles are extending further

For the two largest smartphone manufacturers, Apple and Samsung, a two-year cycle has now leveled off for high-end smartphones. Although there are new models every year they are largely based on the previous model. This year, Apple is believed to be presenting simply an updated version of the iPhone 6 from 2014.

Lenovo has introduced to its upcoming smartphones to act in tandem. The success of Moto Mods is closely linked to the wide distribution of compatible smartphones. So Lenovo is also going to offer compatible devices in 2017.

There is another glimmer of hope. A cheap smartphone purchased two years ago is oftentimes useless. But anyone who buys a smartphone between $200 and 300 has a good chance that it could still work fast enough in two or three years. And technical progress should ensure that smartphones keep working longer.

And that would also benefit the environment; less wasted materials and energy.

Do we need new smartphones every year? Should manufacturers market their smartphones for several years after their release? Would you support such a model strategy? Write your opinion in the comments.

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  • Nokia used to do this back in the day. Release a new handset every six months sometimes. Its nothing new drives innovation which is a good thing etc. Android Manufacturers need to commit better to supporting their products for a longer period so users have up to date software versions with a lengthy roadmap like IOS.

  • Paul Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

    It's quite the opposite. All the phones are absolutely identical nowadays. We need change. For example, where can I find a 4.3" phone with decent specs and newest Android version? Manufacturers don't understand that there is demand outside the "yet another galaxy s6 clone" and "yet another htc 10 clone" fields. Waterproof, dustproof, rugged, compact, massive phones... Phones with great camera, active pen (yes, like that one samsung note. We need more choice than this year's model or last year's model. We need more manufacturers in this), tablet dock, different OS (Windows Phone, Sailfish, that new Ubuntu...), physical hardware buttons, physical QWERTY keyboard, different screen size... There's plenty of space to expand and I'm waiting impatiently for that space to be filled up, because then will be the best time to buy a smartphone. Because now we have plenty of 5-5.5" phones with on-screen buttons and all kinds of specs, but outside that little oasis there is a huge empty desert. There was time when manufacturers had to fight for better specs, but that time has passed. Nowadays, mid-range smartphones are just as fast as flagships... They need to finally start focusing on features. But if I see a phone with distinctive features, it has to be one with 1GB of RAM... Which makes Android unusable. Why do they always have to cheap out at one aspect or another? It's either the same boring 5" body or shitty specs...

  • So here are my opinions: Do we need new smartphones every year? Yes & no. Yes since it drives innovation. No because there become too many choices & then there's the fragmentation.
    Should manufacturers market their smartphones for several years after their release? I believe so cause that helps them recoup development costs.
    Would you support such a model strategy? Yes.

  • I don't think the author is contemplating a communist solution to over saturation of the mobile market and defragmantation, rather, a newer way of manufacturers coming together in one or two area's, so there is a better end-user experience on the Android platform to secure everyone's success and that of the platform.
    This is what Apple clearly succeeds in because of it's end to end in house production of it's device's, although i'am not personally a fan of it's locked down system, this is the biggest advantage it has over Android, with all their devices working seamlessly together and sold as a 'lifesyle choice'.
    When new technologies like for example, wireless charging hit the Android market, it can be two opposing companies struggling for dominance until one is taken on by a large manufacturer making the other soon obserlete. And functions like NFC being available on one device over another, which makes the market more fragmented still futher plus many other's like USB type-C, removable of 3.5 mm headphone sockets. While these in themselves are not detrimental to the use of your device, even giving you more options or the best configuration for your device by way of competition, the further fragmentation of the latest Android upgrade can leave many behind with perfectly functioning handsets, for example if your still on Jellybean and a new coveted app comes on the Googleplay store, it may only backwards compatible to lollipop, unless you can root your device and have access to a computer also, your stuffed if you don't have the available income to purchase new or even second-hand. With time passing all devices will be rendered 'Obserlete' eventually, even high-end devices which still have the powerful chipsets inside to power apps and games several years into the future, but the platform on the device doesn't support many apps wanted or needed anymore, so it ends up with a mass of other's in landfill because recycling is a costly business and it has no second-hand value any more although in great condition after being well looked after.
    I presume the author here is trying to make these point's (Which I'm happy he has) because I haven't personally seen any other well established technology forum's approach this subject, and if so, tentatively, so cudos to him for doing so and to suggest a better approach in the future whereas manufacturers come together in this area, but still keep their own identity but competition between them for superior products is a step in the right direction, and not as one individual on here indicated a 'Communist?'. (Using ad-hominim's only distract from the issue).
    Something will have to give in the future whether by consumer demand or thousands of tons of thoughtless waste, of otherwise still functional device's with individuals forced to disregard albeit unwilling to do so, because they have been left behind by upgrades to the Android operating systems way back.
    Some sort of cohesion has to be made to make the lifespan longer than the expected 2-3 years, I even recall purchasing a handset with removable battery and even given a spare on a smartphone I purchased, try even today to find a unsealed device now where you can simply swap out dead batteries without specialist tools and knowledge, partly it's all our faults for not demanding this with our wallets, Samsung used to do it in their early devices and removable storage but somehow we have bought into it and accepted it also, this is their greed and our misfortune and with smart devices in their current form not the 'Dumb' generation, this technology is still relatively new, and in the near future a rethink is required I would propose, so it is not such a fragmented eco-system without losing it's competitiveness.

  • Why be scared of choice? I purchase only high end phones, and want the widest choice possible to choose a phone that suites my needs best. Although I only replace every 2 years, the improvements brought on by annual releases has obvious benefits.

  • Albert Aug 17, 2016 Link to comment

    I don't mind a new one being made each year. What I don't like is that OEMs make so many different models during that one year. I think that OEMs should make one model that works for all carrier & one international.
    Entry level: 1 model(not 3 different variations)
    Midrange: 2 models(large and small)
    Flagship: 3 models max (large, small, & "innovative" "niche" product if they want)
    Tablet: Midrange & high end only

  • Tyranny of choice - overchoice - choice overload - decision fatigue - these psychological and marketing buzz words perfectly describe the situation with mobile phones. Choosing a phone is so demanding and takes so much time

    Although the other extreme is the Soviet Union's practice of manufacturing stuff - no choice, you get whatever is manufactured. Equal distribution =D

  • What we don't need is an arrogant hyphanated moron telling us what we need. The market place will decide well enough, in fact far better, by consumers buying or rejecting what is offered.

    • Elfyn Aug 17, 2016 Link to comment

      While you are entitled to your opinion, your attack(s) on the author of this article, make you look like an a$$hat.

    • Paul Aug 18, 2016 Link to comment

      The problem is that not enough is offered... I would gladly buy a 4" semi-rugged phone (let's say 63mm in width) with hardware QWERTY keyboard so that I can use it with thick gloves, with decent specs (2GB RAM is a must) and a battery that lasts a full day of heavy use. Can I have that? No? Well, then they need to release more phones :)

  • I disagree, as one that buys my own smartphone, preferring to pay for a sim only contract, I can see prices coming down through additional competition.

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