We’re either right in the middle of a really great, chock-full-of-potential time to be a smartphone manufacturer, or smack-dab in one of the most difficult periods to date, where market domination by a couple big players creates significant barriers to competition.
Samsung and Apple reign supreme over the landscape, together accounting for about 43% of global smartphone sales. After that it starts dropping off fast, and even the three next biggest OEMs combined don’t have sales that equal Apple’s.
On one hand, the smartphone market is expanding into new regions, especially in developing countries. Here, smaller players may be able to better deliver handsets with the price/features balance that shoppers are looking for, while Apple and (to a lesser, and more variable extent) Samsung are more premium brands.
At least, that’s the dream, but then we also have developed nations, where it can seem incredibly difficult for anyone but the biggest of the big to catch a break. Why, just this year we saw HTC take a $100M loss in one quarter alone. This is a respected manufacturer with one of the most critically acclaimed smartphones of the year – if it can’t make a buck selling a smartphone, what chance does anyone else have?
And indeed, a number of smartphone companies have been feeling market pressures to the extent that they just say “enough, already,” and bow out. Earlier this year we saw NEC decide that smartphones weren’t in its future, followed shortly thereafter by Panasonic making a similar announcement. Then just this month rumors suggested that LG might be taking a hiatus itself – a rumor that ultimately proved false, but given the landscape we’re looking at, didn’t seem completely ludicrous.
Well, that’s got me thinking: there are a lot of companies still trying to take a stab at this whole “smartphone” thing, and not all of them are doing a stellar job at it. Maybe they’re a small player that just can’t catch a break and needs to move on. Maybe they’re a big name but after botching so many hardware or software releases, you just can’t trust them anymore.
So I ask you, our readers: is there any one smartphone company you think should just gracefully bow out, putting its handset dreams aside? Take a look at some of the options and place your vote.
HTC: I like HTC – I really do – but it simply can not catch a break. Maybe we’ll see its finances spring back up, but if it continues to post losses, is it going to be worth rooting for for much longer? I don’t know what it would do without smartphones, but… something’s got to give.
LG: Well, we know now that the rumor is bunk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wish it were true. LG tends to make a few very nice phones – and a whole lot of forgettable ones. Recently, it seems to be trying to step up its innovation game, so maybe it still has the capacity to (pleasantly) surprise us yet.
Motorola: With Google’s support, I in no way expect Motorola to close up its phone shop, but should it? Sure, there are the Moto X/G, which are nice phones, but then we get wasted effort in carrier exclusives like the Droid Ultra family, a love/hate relationship with developers, and a patent portfolio that makes the company plenty valuable, whether it’s making new phones or not.
Sony: There are a lot of Xperia choices, and even better, a lot of really nice hardware among them. Sony seems to realize that it can’t compete on the same level as Samsung, so it’s taking a much more focused, regional approach to its growth plans. Still, we’ve heard more than a few complaints about certain models, so maybe you’re not the biggest fan.
Huawei: These Asian OEMs are difficult for Western audiences to appreciate, and it’s easy for them to seem like smaller players than they really are. Huawei’s been pushing into Europe with models like the Ascend W2, and while the company has hit some high marks with this year’s lineup, it’s not one we often find ourselves getting excited about.
ZTE: We’re looking at largely the same themes as with Huawei, though I get the sense that ZTE’s just a bit less ambitious. It’s made stabs at devices on new platforms (Firefox OS), and it’s been experimenting with less-mainstream SoCs, but it’s still not an OEM we find many people cheering for.
The list keeps going from here – Casio with its odd ruggedized Android every now and then, Oppo with its cool-sounding phones that are never for sale where we’d like them to be… enough with the talk; let’s vote!
Image: Firecracker Alley