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State of the Smartphone

By Anton D. Nagy May 4, 2019, 8:00 am

iPhones have a big chunk of the US market at the palm of their one hand. But in the other, Android phones dominate the iPhone, globally. There’s a plethora of reasons why and it’s mainly just how things come to be.

The iPhone is not a phone. It’s a fashion statement. The “look at me” symbol of our modern world. It’s unnecessarily expensive (with reasons why, which I’ll get to later), has a uniform look, and “it just works.” That saying for the iPhone (” it just works”) is getting old, but from word of mouth, it holds up.

When it comes to being trendy or FOMO, this is where iPhone excels: marketing. It just makes you want the phone. The integrated experience with iCloud for storage and safekeeping, Apple Music and iMessage, in addition to their own Apple store for customer service. What more is there to ask for in a phone? *clears throat* I mean fashion statement? It makes sense why the US has more iPhone users than Android. We have an individualistic nation that likes to brag. According to gs.statcounter.com, from March ’18 – March ’19, iOS had 54.74% of the market share, while Android had 44.89%. The iPhone is just the bigger, rectangular version of a wedding ring.


To tie ribbon? Apple controls everything about the iPhone. From the hardware (cameras, chips, design) to the software (emojis, updates, UI/UX).

The divide starts with Android

If you’re a long time iPhone user and you decide you want to switch to Android, you wouldn’t know where to look. It would make sense to go to the “go to” phone, which is almost always a Samsung phone (brand loyalty huh?), but look at their prices. You could start cheap, but your best choices are Motorola and their constant abandoning of phones. However, just like iPhones with their aftermarkets, Android has their own as well. There are three price range choices:

  1. Flagship
  2. Mid-range (with upper and lower mid-range)
  3. Budget

The US is mostly a flagship phone market, which is why we have a weird trend of paying $1,000 for a phone. As prices for smartphones increase, the lines between 1 and 2 start blurring as well. What also determines the price range for the phone is the chipset it carries. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips that power Android phones come in tiers.

  • Snapdragon 8 series (855, 845, 835, 821, 820) – Flagship
  • Snapdragon 7 series (730, 712, 710) – Upper mid-range
  • Snapdragon 6 series (675, 670, 665, 660, 653, 636, 632, 630, 626, 625) – Upper->lower mid-range
  • Snapdragon 4 series (450, 439, 435, 429) – Budget
  • Snapdragon 2 series (212, 205) – Budget

A suggestion on Reddit for an overall phone, is to get an older flagship phone. You, unfortunately, only find noteworthy cameras in flagships (check), prices should be a few hundred dollars lower, thanks to the newer flagship (check), and flagships are supported longer than any other type of phone, like mid-range and budget phones (check). However, there aren’t any places designed for Android customer service. The only way is to call the OEM up and/or send it to them for a fix or replacement.

The best way to analogize Android is the car manufacturer Kia. Started off crappy but ended up becoming something great. Android symbolizes innovation and openness. The software is Android, the selling point. It’s hard to market software when your main features are baked in the Operating System. That’s when the Original Equipment Manufacturers come in.

We all know their names: Samsung, Google, Huawei, OnePlus, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Xiaomi, LG, HTC, ZTE, ASUS, Essential, and others. These are your “Android phones.” Each has its strengths and weaknesses which creates two bubbles:

  1. a type of phone for anybody
  2. no type of phone for anybody

As you transition towards the Eastern Hemisphere, where the majority of the population lives, it turns into bubble #1. There are more OEMs, cheaper phones in US Dollars and packs more bang for your buck. Android gives you the ability to produce phones at a cheaper cost compared to trying to make a copy of an iPhone, all because of the contrast between the permeability of both Android and iOS. That’s why gs.statcounter.com shows that Android has 75.33% of the global market share compared to iOS’s 22.4%.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Android is selling since there are many Androids. Samsung and Google fight it out to be the iPhone doppelganger in the Android world (TL;DR, Samsung is winning), Huawei is banned from the US yet still doing foreign numbers and providing good packages at many price points. OnePlus (a subsidiary of OPPO, which is a sub-brand of BBK Electronics) entered the US market with their 6T and a contract with T-Mobile, to rival flagships (known as “the flagship killer.”) Sony could fill the mid-range market if they could just lower their prices a bit (they’re great, but not “Samsung” great) and actually market their phones. Motorola and Nokia cater to budget and mid-rangers, LG is trying but not trying at the same time, Xiaomi is dominating budget phones and mid-rangers globally, HTC looks like it’s done for soon. Essential was a one-hit wonder. ZTE? Asus??

Samsung used to be #1 in camera phones for a while until Google officially joined the market. Google and Huawei are now battling each other over the #1 spot. Google used to be #1 in the software department, but Samsung is the tailgater with their recent One UI software revamp and update consistency (which is still slow for major updates) and OnePlus actually has the cleanest and lightest software with their Oxygen OS skin. Huawei comes out of nowhere like Randy Orton, and suddenly starts catching up to the big 3 (Apple, Samsung, Google) with great cameras, big batteries, and nice phone designs?

Hold up.

Google controls the Android software, but OEMs can add to it because it’s open-sourced. The biggest problem Android faces is fragmentation. You have

  • stock Android (Motorola, Nokia)
  • Pixel UI (Google)
  • One UI (Samsung)
  • Oxygen OS (OnePlus)
  • EMUI (Huawei)
  • Sense (HTC)
  • Xperia UI (Sony)
  • UX (LG)
  • MIUI (Xiaomi)
  • ZenUi (Asus)

This is how OEMs differentiate themselves, and this is how we should see Android as, instead of just Samsung or Google.

Google updates the main Android software (Nougat, Oreo, Pie), and the rest of the OEMs decide if they actually want to update their phones to it for 2 years as required, with the main OEMs being Google (pushing 3), Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus, LG, Sony, and HTC. Then after the OEMs finish updating, they have to go through the mobile carriers (Verizon, T-Mobile, if you choose to go that way) for extra modifications so the software can work with the carrier. The same goes for monthly security updates. The slowest to update the main software would be Samsung because their software comes with a load of features that aren’t found in stock Android, which requires more time to work with the newest software, along with “bug fixes and performance improvements.” But it’s well worth the wait because the majority of Samsung’s updates are reliable and stable. Huawei also takes some time. The worst to update is Motorola and LG since they usually abandon their phones after a year. The best are Google, OnePlus, Essential (until it finally loses support soon) and maybe Nokia.

Android used to be known for its buggy software, unreliability, and bad cameras. It all started to change with the introduction of Project Butter in Android 4.1, aka “Jelly Bean.” It brought the software to 60 FPS, among other under-the-hood optimizations, which resulted in smoother user experience and interface.

The camera department was under the reign of the iPhone for, especially with the introduction of an app called Snapchat, which was horrible on Android but great on iPhone, in terms of camera quality. It created a further divide between the two giants, forgetting the fact that the app developer, Evan Spiegel had the iPhone in mind when creating Snapchat. It’s why Snapchat for iPhone always had the newest features first, the app redesign, and better camera quality. Snapchat for Android takes a screenshot of the viewfinder as a picture, instead of using the Camera2 API, which is a direct link to the camera of the phone. Let’s not forget how bad it drains the battery and makes your phone hot.

This can partially be a reason why many iPhones were sold. Kids-young adults were using Snapchat as it grew to what it was today, and everyone already had the idea that Android was buggy and had a bad camera. Because Snapchat was giving them a better camera experience compared to Android’s, it gave people incentives to continue buying iPhones. Instagram has taken a lot of Snapchat’s users with its own “Stories” gimmick, which it does better and is more integrated with your profile. However, both still compress your photos (with a slight exception of the Pixel phones), so we’re arguing over nothing here.

Once 2016 came, everything changed. Samsung released their 7th Galaxy S series (S7 + S7 Edge) as a fully-packed phone and Google released their first Pixels, both competing in camera against each other and iPhone. From that point forward, it has been a parallel of all three trying to compete with each other: Apple – Samsung – Google, for flagships in the US. LG is lost and HTC is left out in the cold. OnePlus has its own space because it has an upper mid-range price with aspects of a flagship phone which are the chip, being updated for 2 years, and “premium” design (glass). It tries to compete against flagships and mid-rangers. Motorola and Nokia are for mid-rangers and budget phones in the US, yet LG and Samsung sell their own mid-rangers and budget phones, like the ones you see in any carrier store that are NOT Galaxies or a V40/G8.

The smartphone market, as a whole, is very rich in innovation, data, and services. The Western hemisphere craves flagships while the Eastern hemisphere has more people to serve, therefore more smartphone options. Samsung, Google, LG, OnePlus, Motorola and Nokia are the main Android figures in the US market, the other OEMs in the Eastern hemisphere market. Apple competes and is winning against the US figures, but not global figures.

Main image credit.


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