Sunday Debate: What Determines Smartphone Evolution?
Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Mobile Evolution. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!
Who decides the fate of smartphone hardware and software? A quick answer would be OEMs and Google, but while they have the ultimate decision as to what makes it in, they base their developments on what certain consumers or markets want. And, as we all know, there are many types of Android users out there; as Google would say, all together but not the same. These differences, be them due to culture, geography or savviness, impact their opinions and purchasing habits, and these end up affecting the course of phone line-ups and market trends. From this perspective, we want to establish an open debate:
Unlike previous debates, this one will not be framed under a dichotomy of stances. We want to explore, as a community, the question of who determines smartphone trends… and who should determine them. There are innumerable factors at play, from an uncountable number of sources and plenty demographics. Because of this, we can’t cover them all, but we will still offer some brain teasers to get you going. The smartphone market has changed dramatically in the past few years, and many marked trends have picked up and died since. With this in mind, here are our questions:
What kind of factors determine what hardware, software, and features see revisions, upgrades, increased focus or make it in or out? What is the weight of these factors, and how do they relate? Which demographics should OEMs listen or cater to in order to build the best smartphone? Below you will find a list of demographics and factors in brain-teasing bulletpoints. Feel free to jump to the comments at your leisure!
- The market as a whole: Google and OEMs analyze the general trends of what sells and what doesn’t (without necessarily going in-depth nor holistically into each of its parts) to extrapolate information on how to build their next phone. Sometimes this allows OEMs to focus on what people in general want, but many of the finer details are lost in the generalization. Example: an OEM might see that phones with bigger screens are being swiftly adopted in most regions and markets, thus decide to increase its next phone’s screen size.
- The casual user base: Casual users are a big demographic to account for in decisions. While they might not be very savvy or informed, the monetary advantage from catering to what the Average Joe wants can be immediately beneficial for OEMs – if done right. The casual user base can also inform smartphone makers of subconscious trends that are shaping up, but the uninformed masses are also unpredictable and might not know exactly what they want or what is good for the evolution of smartphones. Example: an OEM might decide to bundle certain social media applications, or even develop its own, to cater to a certain trend among casual users.
- The hardcore user base: Hardcore and power users are savvy and typically know what they want and how they want it. They also are exposed to many more alternatives, which allows them to compare each of them to figure out what’s best. Power users are also diverse in their use cases, though, and they do not represent what would necessarily sell the best. Example: hardcore users tend to love customizability, so OEMs decide to include theme engines in their phone and at the same time, make them accessible to all users.
- Geography, High-end & Developing Markets: Adjusting for the affluence level of the targeted demographic is very important for any hardware or software development, from pricing strategies to investments in marketing. What makes it in also depends on the cultural values present in different areas of the world. Example: an Asian OEM’s software aesthetics might be very popular in their region due to its color palettes and design, but the same aesthetic might not appeal to western markets.
- Purchasing habits: Not to be confused with which smartphones sell, but rather, the kind of things people want in and out of smartphones and technology in general. This allows OEMs to predict trends, or create them altogether. Example: as fitness and health technology is increasingly consumed in the form of fitness bands and other accessories, OEMs decide to incorporate fitness features – such as heart rate monitors – in their phones and watches.
- Brand Loyalty and Conformism: Sometimes OEMs and developers decide to stick to a particular vision or direction simply to please their hardcore fans or those who have grown used to their products.This can be good to retain customers, but if done improperly it can lead to stagnation and a negative image. Example: Samsung stuck to their design language for years as things like their physical home button became a recognizable visual cue for their Galaxy line of phones.
- Android Blogs, Journalism and Reviews: Phone makers monitor the world of Android news and the communities these feed. It is not rare to see the major complaints from specific reviews and/or particular reviewers get addressed with hardware or software iterations. Some reviewers hold very important and insightful opinions, but many reviews fill their rants with inconsequential and petty complaints. Both the good and the bad gets listened to, even if they tend to create big fuss over non-issues, and turn actual problems into non-issues as well. Example: reviewers complain about non-premium materials, then OEMs decide to increase the amount of metal and glass in their phones, sometimes sacrificing features and/or hardware modularity.
There are a lot more factors at play that we have not listed – from the economic state of the world and its regions to the predominance or rise of certain socio-political concerns such as security and privacy. We hope that we could, at least, give you a brief example of the kind of things that OEMs take into account when building a new smartphone. But what we really hope to see is a good debate come out of this. So we ask you:
- Which factors do you think matter to OEMs the most?
- Which do you think should matter to them the most (even if they don’t), and why?
- In which ways do certain factors damage smartphone evolution?
- What trends do you see picking up that you wish were not growing?