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  • sanyam jain

Saturation in the smartphone realm

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

The introduction of the first iPhone in 2007 started a revolution to consume multimedia on a touch screen device. The smartphone industry has never looked down on innovations since then.

The spec-bump in computing abilities- high-end processors, high capacity rams, powerful GPUs; to the modern hardware capabilities- high-resolution display panels, photography grade camera sensors, connectivity advancements, superior audio performances; combined with elements like shrinking bezels, fingerprint sensors, fast charging; and supported equally well by ever so improving software by Google and Apple; the smartphone industry has moved towards the pinnacle.

In the span of the last 2-3 years, this movement has faltered on several occasions. It is clearly visible through the new releases by smartphone manufacturers. The phones seem monotonous and are just showing incremental upgrades over their previous versions, rather than functional ones. A corollary to this fact is the emergence of several new smartphone brands based out of China. Such brands like Xiaomi, One Plus, Realme,Oppo, Vivo and many more have successfully managed to eat into the market share of manufacturing giants like Samsung, Apple, and Lg; while making major brands like Blackberry, Htc and Sony, almost obsolete. These brands have similar offerings at a much better price to performance ratio. It is because they source out directly, from the manufacturing country. Also, their marketing and operational cost was minuscule intially , as they started off by selling exclusively online.

Using a smartphone for both work and play has become typical nowadays. The transformation of this vogue into a necessity, has been a stimulus for skyrocketing sales and a repeat customer base in the global market. Manufacturers have responded by rolling out new devices frequently. This in turn has accounted for a herd instinct in the manufacturing sector, where a new design choice or a software iteration or a new spec-sheet chosen by a major smartphone manufacturer, is replicated instantaneously by these new brands. Consumers now find it difficult to differentiate between the various offerings. The old problem of such monotone continues to haunt the new smartphone brands as well. The result is a saturated market, where the only way to make an offering more lustrous than others, is by undercutting the competitors in the price department. A whole mid-tier segment, INR 20000-40000(USD250-450), is tarnished in a price sensitive market like India due to the severe competition.

All isn't as gloomy as it sounds to be. The saturation and the resulting competition is a boon for smartphone consumers as now they are getting better value for their money than ever. An example is the INR 20000(USD250), Pocophone, which uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 as the INR 50000-60000(USD900-1000) Samsung S9+ and Google Pixel 3XL. Cheap smartphones are getting better and better smartphones are getting cheaper. An INR 15000($200) phone is now capable enough to meet all the basic needs(social media, work, entertainment) and serve for an optimal experience for a regular user. Manufacturing giants are forced to compete and, hence we can see new lineups namely M series from Samsung, W series from Lg, 3a series from Google; to regain their lost share in the segment which compounds for the highest sales volumes in units. Consumers are the winners here. They get tons of options at a pocket-friendly price, which again poses a dilemma of choice. However, this is a 'good dilemma' to have.

Manufacturers have made several attempts to break out of the shackles of this saturation, by differentiating their products in design language and functional enhancements. Motorized camera to achieve a bezel-less display, in-display fingerprint sensors to achieve a buttonless device and folding displays to achieve a larger display in a smaller footprint, are some of the examples. The attempts have been futile in most cases and haven't been received well by the market. For Galaxy Fold by Samsung, lack of durability of the display caused a callback, while the motorized camera might not hold up with time. Still, there is always a Gen 1 for new technology and tech-enthusiasts happily support the idea of such new experiments. After all, one of them might be the elixir to make this saturation disappear.

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