The Rise Of The Premium Smartphone: Do Looks Matter? | UAE News
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The Rise Of The Premium Smartphone: Do Looks Matter?

The Rise Of The Premium Smartphone: Do Looks Matter?

High-end devices need to look and feel like they warrant the premium price tags, writes Saad ElKhadem, research analyst at IDC MEA.


When Apple released the iPhone to the world in 2007, it changed the entire mobile landscape, paving the way for a new wave of smartphones. It transformed the way that people thought about smartphones — how they should look, what they should do, and how we should use them.

Vendors rushed to emulate what Apple had done. In the pursuit, most jumped on board the Android bandwagon, with Google offering the vendors just what they needed in terms of a software platform capable of competing with iOS.

But software wasn’t the only issue.

Apple had also revolutionised things in terms of build quality and materials. When Steve Jobs appeared on stage with the all-new iPhone, he unveiled a unibody design encased in aluminum that gave the phone the look and feel of a truly premium device.

Strangely enough, however, other vendors didn’t really follow suit. Instead, most decided to pursue the use of plastics in an attempt to ease production challenges and keep costs low.

Samsung, already one of the most successful smartphone vendors on the market, drove the Android operating system to new heights, and eventually became the number-one phone maker in the world. Its flagship Galaxy S line was launched to take the battle to Apple head on. And battle it did, with great success.

However, there were constant calls for Samsung to use better-quality materials, particularly in its higher-end devices. Many users and commentators argued that if Samsung’s flagship device truly intended to compete directly with the iPhone, then it should be a premium device not only in terms of features, but also in build quality.

And when Samsung didn’t answer the call, others stepped up to the plate.

Troubled HTC needed a big hit in 2013, and it came to the market with the HTC One, a critically acclaimed phone in terms of features, performance, materials, and design. The metal phone was tasked with battling Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and Apple’s iPhone 5.

The rave reviews and metal body didn’t do much to turn HTC’s fortunes around, and Samsung’s S4 still reigned supreme at the top of the Android device leaderboard. However, this didn’t deter the vendor from releasing the updated HTC One (M8) earlier this year, which also features a metal body.

And though this approach did little to unbalance Samsung, it didn’t deter others from releasing a slew of devices that focused more on design aesthetics and the use of premium materials. Huawei and Sony both continue to target their efforts in this direction with their flagship devices. Their respective latest offerings, the Ascend P7 and the Xperia Z3, are premium smartphones encased in two pieces of glass to give them that high-end look and feel.

Motorola’s highly customisable 2014 version of its flagship Moto X model also features a metal frame around the device’s edge, and even Nokia has followed suit with a few models featuring a similar metallic band. And in response to its rivals’ actions, Samsung finally unveiled its first smartphone with a metal frame — the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. The device didn’t make too many waves upon release in September this year, as the vendor didn’t want it to overshadow the launch of its highly-anticipated Galaxy Note 4 phablet, which also features a metal frame.

IDC expects Samsung to persist with this new design language for its top-end models. Indeed, rumours are already circulating about a new range of Galaxy Alpha devices featuring premium build and materials.

Samsung certainly knows it has a battle on its hands. The smartphone landscape is more fluid than ever before, with new vendors from all over the world climbing into the ring and duking it out to secure their share of the market. The net result has been a slowdown in the Korean giant’s growth, with cheaper brands muscling into its territory at the lower end, and Apple’s two new iPhone models at the higher end that will go head to head with the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4.

With wave after wave of new devices continuing to hit the market, consumers now have greater choice than ever before. Where things get interesting is in terms of the value proposition. Just because a device doesn’t cost much, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be expected to perform poorly. Indeed, a good portion of the lower-cost phones available on the market today offer specs and performance that are not too far off those found on many midrange and high-end devices.

This reality has reinforced the need for high-end devices to look and feel like they warrant the premium price tags consumers are paying for them. And with vendors now rushing en masse to heed this message, it is clear that at the flagship end of the market, looks really do matter.


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