Sunday Debate: Will High-end Flagships Die Out?
Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Flagship Death. 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!
The blogosphere at large has written several articles about 2015 flagships and all of their compromises, regressions, and ultimately, disappointments. The industry has undoubtedly changed dramatically in the past two years, and the rise of the affordable phone in emerging markets meant new focus points for OEMs to concentrate on — ones where high-end flagships weren’t the best bet.
In this sense, the so-called “flagship killer” phones (like the OnePlus One) did add to the fire and contribute to what seems to be a slow decline in flagships’ year-after-year improvements. The middle-range is becoming an increasingly competitive segment, with fierce OEMs trying to find the perfect formula of bang-per-buck. Sony, for example, is now trying to further expand in emerging markets with their M5 and C5 Ultra mid-range devices. In an article on the matter, I questioned whether this would be yet another sign of “the slow death of flagships”, at least as we know them. XDA Developer Admin & Portal Editor pulser_g2 recently published an excellent article on the topic as well, where he too concluded that the flagship is dying.
It is no secret that many of the newer flagship phones are too similar to their predecessors when it comes to design and specifications, and those who radically alter either of the two tend to do so by compromising key selling-points of previous iterations. The new middle-range is advancing with devices like the new Moto X models and the OnePlus 2, which compete at flagship level with a much lower price point. So we want to ask you: can “flagships” move to the middle-range? Should the industry continue its focus towards the middle-range at the expense of the progress of high-end flagships? Is this a good move for Android in terms of technological developments and consumer satisfaction? As always, feel free to skip our food-for-thought and head down to the comments below.
1. Premium Flagships Will Remain Strong
While we’ve seen a big focus on keeping costs down this year (be it through watering down specifications, adding bloatware and shameless advertisements, or sacrificing build quality or design), we also saw some devices up their game. An easy example would be Samsung’s Galaxy S6, which improved upon many components and capabilities, added new technology and achieved a stunning new look. None of this came without compromises, though, and many mourned the loss of removable batteries and expandable storage. However, with this expensive yet premium device Samsung might have reminded us and the competition that there is still a good market for high-cost devices. Expensive flagships still drive technology forward in terms of hardware and features, and as long as there are people wanting the best of the best, there will be a market for them.
2. Premium Flagships Will Slowly Die Out
As prominent markets reach their saturation points and more developing economies begin to emerge as profitable markets, the middle-range gains a stronger ground and becomes a desirable focus for OEMs looking for profit. We first saw the rise of budget and middle-range devices when manufacturers flooded stores with poorly built and weak phones that nobody (that knew better and could do better) would buy. Now that various hardware components are approaching their performance plateaus thanks to technological progress and software optimization, affordable devices like those in the popular Moto G series can deliver great experiences that are enough to satisfy most casual consumers. Android does not need the best hardware anymore, especially if the ROM is slim and close to stock, and alternatives like Android One allow consumers to experience Android services the proper way and for low prices. The more affordable phones like the Moto G are getting better, and flagships like the Moto X models are getting cheaper. Eventually, a middle ground could be found and the market might shift its focus, full-force, towards this segment, turning flagships into a niche even in affluent countries.
a. The Death of Flagships Benefits Consumers
Android’s growth and current dominance wouldn’t be what it is without affordable devices, and its future is not sustainable without appealing to unsaturated markets. With more users having access to the platform, services could improve for all of us. Moreover, OEMs expanding in emerging markets with strategies that offer well-polished and well-performing middle-range devices means that more users will get a great (and in the future, perhaps even more stellar) Android experience. Under these conditions, new exciting technologies could emerge to turn the smartphone into a primary and central device through projects like Andromium and the Internet of Things.
b. The Death of Flagships is Detrimental to Android
If high-end or premium devices cease to be a manufacturer’s’ main focus (or the most important one), we might see yearly advancements in hardware progressively slow down, and in some cases, retrograde sacrifices might be made in order to compete in a lower price bracket. These compromises could trickle down and impact the experience of several users, although perhaps not too substantially. Flagships allow OEMs to charge a premium and be safer when testing new technologies in high-end packages. Mid-range and non-flagship devices used to come with interesting features (and gimmicks) in the past as well, such as fingerprint scanners, but it was not until high-end flagships and their re-envisioned and improved technology brought them to the mainstream that they became popular standards.
Flagship phones were enthusiasts’ Holy Grails for a long time, but with flagship killers, affordable phones, Chinese manufacturers and the rise of emerging markets, many are finding their Holy Grails at much cheaper prices. In a few years, we might see the industry put most of its attention on the affordable segment, and judging from what we see at the moment, the trend will only accelerate. So, all things considered, we want to know what you think is best:
- Will Premium Flagships slowly die out? Will they be replaced by affordable flagships?
- Will the industry at large shift its focus? Will high-end phones make a comeback? Why/how?
- Which do you think is more beneficial for the industry, smartphone adoption or hardware/software advancements?
- How does it all come together?
- Is there a perfect middle ground? What would it be?