Have smartphones reached a point where specs no longer differentiate them?

Every year, OEMs put out newer and better phones. Of course they do. What’s the point of a new generation if it’s not better than the last, right? But some OEMs, notably Apple, have taken to using more vague descriptors of their smartphone components. They say things like “all day battery life” or Apple’s famous “retina display”. The problem with descriptions like this is they are either highly subjective, or they don’t really mean anything from a specification standpoint.

But here’s the thing. We are fast entering a world where most flagships are going to have basically the same components as the rest of the field. What that means is that things are starting to level off between the main competitors today – Samsung, HTC, and LG are all virtually identical below the glass. Take a look at this comparison from GSM Arena between the main three flagships just released and try to name that phone:

It’s not so easy. Each has slightly different screen tech, but even pixel density is within 25 ppi of each other. There’s just a lot of the same rolling off the factory floor and each is in its own sweet candy shell. And that’s where we’re going to start to see diversity in the offerings – the Samsung Galaxy S7, the LG G5, and the HTC 10 are all built really differently on the outside, with different looks and feels, but isn’t most of that subjective? You may think the HTC 10 is ugly, but Jaime’s review gives the hardware a perfect 10 score. So maybe the HTC 10 is the phone to beat this year? Well, not so fast.

htc-10-camerasSay “Cheese”

Another area where our flagships diverge is camera tech. With a pair of 12’s and a 16-megapixel camera, there is still some diversity in the camera tech, but the quantity that most consumers are looking for is in the megapixels. I’m not saying that’s the right philosophy – far from it actually – but that’s the first number consumers look at, and even those numbers are vastly similar. Both the HTC 10 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 have larger pixels, while LG has a second wide-angle camera. But those concepts are beyond the spec sheet – or at least they’re beyond the spec sheets that people care about.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means basically, that you can’t make a wrong choice when it comes to flagship phones. Which begs the question – why even look at the spec sheet anymore? But maybe that’s a conversation better saved for tomorrow (spoiler alert). This isn’t necessarily a good thing for LG and HTC either because if everything else is equal, the marketing budget will have a lot to say about how many phones are sold.

lg g5 real camera review pocketnowHere it comes

What this does mean is we will see those points of differentiation get hammered hard in the future. This year, a lot of the spotlight fell on camera tech, and rightly so. All three companies are doing some neat things with the camera. So that’s a point of differentiation where OEMs are going to try to capitalize. That and phone design are arguably the most compelling points about today’s smartphones.

While we’re at it, we’ll take a moment to also consider smaller points of differentiation – software features, LG’s modular design, the S7 Edge. Some of these are compelling to some, but each of those also leaves the spec sheet out of consideration. We’ve come to a point where specs are starting to not matter. And I’m genuinely not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

And you?

So I leave it to you – are you concerned about living in a world where specs no longer matter, because everyone has the same thing? Between the three flagships recently introduced, which one interests you most and why? Perhaps LG’s modular design is interesting, or maybe that Edge is calling your name? Sound off below in the comments not only with which phone is the most interesting, but where you see this going in the future. Will we all be hearing more “all-day-battery” type of comments? Will OEMs even boast about their specifications any more? It’ll be interesting to see to say the least. Meanwhile, tomorrow we’ll talk about those top end specs and how much they’re really worth.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!