Standing Out From The Android Crowd
So how do you stand out in the marketplace?
If you're Samsung, then significant advertising spend and positioning yourself as the anti-Apple seems to be the way to go. That and having a device at every possible market niche. The real money makers - the Galaxy S and Note lines provide value by packing in features. The Note's S-pen remains the best solution for note-taking, the S5 delivers the widest range of features in a premium Android device. And Samsung is brave enough to throw out some very niche products to see what the market will take to. The Galaxy Tab and Note have already defined new market segments, the Gear, Gear VR and Note Edge may be helping to define newer ones.
HTC and Sony have a more difficult task. Both companies are struggling with challenging financials and don't have the capability or capacity to battle Samsung above them, or the burgeoning manufacturers below them. In terms of sales both have seen falls, despite delivering some very high quality devices. HTC's decision to diversify into Windows Phone on its premium device, demonstrates how desperate it is to pick up sales. Build quality is HTC's go to market feature but it isn't enough, especially when it's best phone is hampered by its Ultrapixel camera mistake.
Sony is looking to integrate the Xperia line into its broader product range. Screen mirroring to Sony TVs, Remote Play for PS4 users and, of course use, of the Walkman branding look to make Sony's product range a consistent offering which competes directly with Apple's end to end experience. The problem here is that Sony's cachet - so high in the past - has been damaged by a series of mistakes and despite being highly regarded by people of a certain age, the Sony brand doesn't really resonate with a younger generation. Still the PS4 is selling very well, so perhaps some form of brand recovery is on the cards.
Lenovo's ownership of Motorola is interesting, I imagine that it will separate it's two brands geographically and across markets. Motorola looks to be about innovative solutions right now, even without charging premium prices for its products. With Lenovo's backing I wouldn't be surprised to see a strong resurgence of the Motorola brand and the selection of products it demonstrated at IFA shows why. Again the Motorola brand isn't strong, but name recognition is high and its dalliance in the control of Google certainly put it back onto customer's radars. If Lenovo manages the innovation/value balance well I'm sure the customers will come flying back.
Last of the well-known Android brands is LG. It has managed to post some excellent growth over the last couple of years - partially as a result of the halo effect of building the Nexus and also because of the arrival of well received handsets like the G2 and G3. It remains in the shadow of Samsung both at home and globally. It doesn't really have the innovation, quality or technical differentiation of it's bigger rival and that is something that would concern me in the long run.
Whilst the Android market continues to explode in volume it can support this wide variety of OEMs, however as Western countries reach smartphone saturation it's going to be harder and harder for these brands to remain sustainable. With developing countries fostering their own OEMs with devices tailored to local market needs, I see a global Android market that supports only two or three premium brands.
If I was a betting man I'd guess that those would be Samsung, Motorola and Sony.
That's a worrying future for those companies without the diversification to survive in a smaller, less valuable market.