LG’s Identity Crisis and the Random Walking of its Product Design
If there’s one thing LG is known for, it’s that they do not like to meticulously follow the trends set by other popular smartphone lines. The company has been producing some rather unique gadgets, ranging from the LG G Flex Line, the recent LG V10, their dabble into the smartwatch category, to the now-modular G line .
LG likes to put out interesting products, but what direction is the company trying to follow exactly? With this varied catalog of products, the question of where the technology company is going next is on the minds of quite a few people. Owners of LG phones, such as myself, are wondering this as well. Taking a closer look at the company’s ventures in the past few years might give us a clue.
One of the tech company’s adventures has led it to produce a few smartwatches. LG entered the smartwatch game with the LG G Watch, which premiered on the Google Store alongside the launch of Android Wear. Then next watch they released, the LG Urbane, was not as well received as the first watch. It was quickly overshadowed by the slimmer, sleeker competition. The company saw more wearable distress with the Urbane 2 LTE being pulled from sales within days of initial release due to a blaring issue.
The first notable “against the grain” phone line was the LG G Flex series. The first G Flex left plenty of buyers scratching their heads, wondering what need there was for a 6 inch phone that only sported a 720p display. Although a first of its kind, offering a fully curved display and a completely bendable chassis, it was not without its major flaws, like the screen developing bubbles after a regular period of wear and tear. The phone wasn’t just marketed to a niche audience. With both the G Flex and G Flex 2 offering a self-healing back cover, the phone offered a resounding accomplishment in the durability of modern smartphones, even if the back’s regeneration wasn’t perfect. The G Flex 2 was also one of the first phones to launch with the Snapdragon 810 chipset, and was thus the phone that began the discussion of the processor’s problematic legacy. The line didn’t sell well, and was soon replaced by a new line.
The series that replaced the G Flex series started (and perhaps ended) with the LG V10. The phone was also a head turner for unique features such as having dual front facing cameras, and a secondary ticker display at the top of the main 2K display. A few issues reported by users on the V10’s respective subreddit include severe light bleed from the phone’s signature second screen, with the only solution being to disable the mini display. The phone’s fingerprint scanner was met with much criticism for not working with a multitude of cases, as well as being very unreliable. Other users have also reported that the phone will shut down and begin to perform a continuous boot loop, with no apparent cause or solution. Some other issues I’ve faced on my own personal unit include the peeling of the back cover’s rubber coating, as well as the phone becoming totally unresponsive at random, requiring a full reboot to make the phone usable again.
The latter issue can be explained by the chip set in the phone. The V10 carries a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, which, like most of the chips in the Snapdragon 800 series, has proven to be a key factor in hindering this phone’s performance. Performance issues that arise from the chip set on the phone include what I’ve mentioned before, as well as video playback crashing at higher 2k resolutions, the camera launch shortcut from the screen off state being extremely slow, and even failing to launch the camera around 50% of the time.
These issues began to overshadow the strengths of the phone, such as its MIL-STD-810G certified shock resistant rating. A (new) rarity in the current smartphone world is also the V10’s removable back (plastic and rubber, not the self healing material of the G Flex line), giving access to a removable battery and SD card slot.
Another line of phones that LG is most notable for being a part of is the Nexus line of phones. LG has released three Nexus devices, the Nexus 4, the ever-famous Nexus 5 and the spiritual successor to the N5, the Nexus 5X. Recently, LG has stated that they are taking a break from producing Nexus phones as to focus on its own line of flagship smartphones. Understandably so, taking the time to work with Google uses up precious development time and marketing resources.
All of these devices aren’t LG’s main focus as a phone manufacturer, however. The signature flagship line that LG releases on a yearly basis is the LG G series. The line initially started with the Optimus G, but was really brought into the spotlight with the LG G2. The G2 was met with much praise, sporting very small screen bezels, one of the first popular implementations of Optical Image Stabilization, as well as debuting the company’s signature rear mounted power and volume buttons. When LG created the G3, they decided to keep the same battery size as the G2, while bumping the display up in both size and resolution. This caused quite the backlash, with many claims of terrible battery life coming from every corner of the blogosphere. The G line also had its fair share of hardware issues as well. The G4 suffered a manufacturing defect that caused early models of the phone to get stuck in a boot loop, with no way to remedy the issue.
The latest in this series of phones, the LG G5, has been home to much controversy lately. The most notable of which surrounds the G5’s all metal finish, or, its painted metal finish. The phone was marketed as a full-metal phone, and most consumers believed these claims up until actual hands on reviews were published. Notable tech reviewers Erica Griffin and JerryRigEverything both pointed out that their units were not in fact all-metal, but were in fact metal coated with an imitation ‘metal infused paint’. When consumers began to outcry with these discoveries, LG’s Ken Hong states “some people have a tendency to assume … metal having to make contact with skin [is necessary] for a product to be considered made of metal”. As noted in our discussion about the G5’s build quality issues, the main point behind a phone’s premium feeling is how it feels in the hand.
Modular: employing or involving a module or modules as the basis of design or construction
The G5 offered another first in it’s line of mobile products, a modular smartphone. A modular smartphone can be very beneficial. Having a phone where you are able to individually replace each part just makes sense. It completely negates us from having to buy an entire new phone every time one part of our phones break. That said, the G5 was not completely modular and it only scratched the surface of the modular smartphone potential, making the only interchangeable part the phone’s chin. The G5 did offer some useful add ons with its implementation, but selection was limited and geographically restricted, too. On the other hand, Lenovo played it smart by opening up the modularity of the Moto Z and offering incentives.
With all of the stand out features of LG’s products, one question remains. Who is LG trying to be? They’ve created plenty of devices with unique features, but they never seem to stick to one idea for too long. The self-healing coating present on the G Flex series never found it’s way to any other phones, being discontinued with the phone line itself. The curved screens of the G Flex series and G4 vanished after the V10 and G5 came along. The G series also saw the decline of the G2’s superb Screen to Body ratio, falling from 75.9% to 75.3% to 72.5% all the way to 70.5% on the G5. Even LG’s signature rear mounted volume buttons were moved back to their traditional place on the side of the phone in the G5. The front dual cameras of the V10 found their way to the rear of the G5 and even on two budget devices offered by LG, but has yet to show up on any of the other devices announced for future release. The second screen of the V10 was featured on another two budget devices, but was not present on the G5 or any other recently announced devices as well. If history is to repeat itself, one can predict that LG’s modular devices will not live past one or two more devices. If LG does come out with another innovative feature, will they keep it on for more than a couple of phones? Past habits do not indicate so.
Just as well, LG’s phone software is very inconsistent. For the most part, they have been good about keeping their flagship G series on the latest software number. But their side phones have always been far behind in support. The original G Flex did not get the upgrade from 4.2 Jelly Bean to 4.4 Kit Kat until 6 months after the software was initially released, later receiving no further updates. The V10 did not receive the update from 5.1 Lollipop to 6.0 Marshmallow until 7 months after the software was released on the main G series, and the G Flex 2 did receive an update from 5.0 Lollipop to 6.0 Marshmallow, but the update was not released until this past month. When most phone manufacturers update their previous generation devices, they make sure to include the software features from the current generation in the update. LG has not been very good about this, hurting feature parity in the process. With each new release in the G line, the previous models only receive a version number update, and not an update to the LG UX they introduce every year.
Part of the reason LG seems to be scatter brained with it’s tech choices could be from its profits on its phone lines. In the second quarter of 2015, LG reported that they only made 1.2 cents (that’s 0.012 USD) on every phone they sold. From then on, the Company’s Mobile Division earnings have only gotten worse. Changing their goals and directions every year is not helping. Some companies have resolved to stick to a design pattern until a major change is needed, only fine-tuning their phones each passing year.
LG has had some truly useful innovations in its products, the company would not be well known without these creations. Constantly changing its direction on its mobile side of tech has not served the company well, and will probably not point to a positive outcome anytime soon if something more consistent is not done.