UX Before Specs: The Transition We Needed
Once upon a time, when a new flagship device was to be released, we would be anticipating a big bump in specs. Those days, we all would salivate at the thought of using that phone with higher RAM’s, more cores, more megapixels and all that good stuff.
A very good depiction of this trend is the transition from Samsung Galaxy S3 to S4 to S5 to S6. Below is a table that highlights the different bump in specs for the 4 phones:
|Samsung Galaxy S3||Samsung Galaxy S4||Samsung Galaxy S5||Samsung Galaxy S6|
|720 x 1280 pixels (306 ppi)||1080 x 1920 pixels (441 ppi)||1080 x 1920 pixels (432 ppi)||1440 x 2560 pixels (577 ppi)|
|Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, Exynos 4412 chip||Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A15 & quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7, Exynos 5410 Octa||Quad-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A15 & quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A7, Exynos 5422 Octa||Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57 Exynos 7420 Octa|
|8 MP rear camera||13 MP rear camera||16 MP rear camera||16 MP rear camera|
|16/32/64 GB, 1 GB RAM||16/32/64 GB, 2 GB RAM||16/32 GB, 2 GB RAM||32/64/128 GB, 3 GB RAM|
|Removable Li-Ion 2100 mAh battery||Removable Li-Ion 2600 mAh battery||Removable Li-Ion 2800 mAh battery||Non-removable Li-Ion 2550 mAh battery|
From the above table, you can see the progressive increase in camera, battery, RAM and screen resolution (with the exception of the S6’s battery capacity, which increased again with the S7). As at the time when these phones were sold, their selling points then were based on the improved specs. If you witnessed the launch event of these devices, you would hear the announcer sweet-talking the improvements again and again. Recent experiences have taught us that improved specifications don’t necessarily translate to better overall performance.
You don’t have to be a keen observer to notice that the lower-specced iPhones still trounced their Android counterparts in terms of performance. That trend has changed, as there is now a form of paradigm shift. OEMs have migrated from a position of offering higher specs to providing better optimization, refinement, design and a renewed focus on user experience.
Still using Samsung as a case study. The launch of the Samsung Galaxy S6 birthed the shift to a more refined aesthetic feel and design. It came with a better-tuned chip for performance, battery optimizations to carry the somewhat-petty 2550mAh further, and greater focus on user experience. This time there was little mention of specs, instead we heard phrases like:
“Design with purpose.”
“Lag or stuttering is gone. More than anything, these devices are insanely responsive.”
“Others have sacrificed convenience for design but not us.”
Not only did they not explicitly and loudly praise processors, but RAM, battery and even cameras have gotten more refined to the point that there’s no need for stepping them up as much as before.
Not forgetting cameras — oh yes, mobile photography has markedly improved in smart phones over the years. What started with bumps in mega-pixels has been elevated to better refinement and far better image output. Like we’ve said before, even manufacturers have learned that mere mega pixels jumps are no longer a guarantee for better quality images. We now hear terms like “better focus”, or tales of wider apertures and better-optimized software.
Look at the transition from the Galaxy S5 to Galaxy S6, both phones have the same mega pixel rating, but camera tests have shown that samples from later, are far more better than what you see on the former. Samsung’s software allows them to see marked improvements without even changing the sensor, and they haven’t really spiced up their camera hardware up until the S7.
We could start saying that the Android OS is getting more refined. The renewed focus in user experiences is providing a better outlook for users in the operating system. Google has contributed to this too with the refinements from Android Marshmallow and the upcoming Android N.
Finally, we can conclude that, the mad race for putting in the highest available specs on mobile phones has abated. Whether we should blame it on a slower pace of innovation, or laziness from the manufacturers, that would be a discussion for another day. It is great to see that better user experience is now the focus of OEMs and specs are no longer the major selling point for smart phones. Perhaps, the specs war is over, and UX design has taken center stage.
What do you think of the current state of specification bumps and the UX of Android? Sound off in the comments section below!