Low-cost Android flagships are a pipe dream

I’ve done my fair share of reading this weekend about Android flagships and how ultimately, they’ll become as inexpensive as the most budget-friendly phones out here. On two different tech sites, that seems to have become a new topic of discussion. Many commenters chime in on these sites with claims that “current Android flagships are not worth the $600+ price tags that come along for the ride,” but I think that this claim is only true under certain conditions — and that Android flagships, as such, will remain high-priced. My reasons are not difficult to understand.

First, Android flagships are the very best of Android (after all, it explains why they’re called “Android flagships”). Android smartphones come with the best cameras, processors (quad-core, now octa-core), the best displays, at least 1080p if not 1440p in the Quad HD arena, and so on. “Premium Android flagships” seems to be the buzz phrase nowadays, as though we need our smartphones to look so attractive that they become vulnerable to pavement, but we could have a premium plastic smartphone that checks off all the boxes of flagship expectations and it would still be a “flagship.”

First, manufacturers need money for research and development (R&D) so that they can continue to innovate in new ways. A number of companies are not innovating in the smartphone space, so their new smartphones with each passing year are the same phone repackaged for, say, 5 years straight. Take Sony, for example: little has changed with Sony smartphones over the years, with the Japanese manufacturer remaining true to its minimalistic design and water and dust resistance in order to reach its faithful customer base. While it’s good to keep your faithful customers, it’s not good to continue to fail to reach new customers because, apart from new customers, your brand remains stagnant and eventually, declines.

Swappable back covers with various build materials and colors don’t constitute “innovation,” so it makes you wonder, “What are these companies doing with consumer money?” I don’t know what some are doing, but Samsung’s latest Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+ make a number of Android manufacturers look bad, particularly when you consider that Samsung has been working on flexible displays for the past three years or so. What are the other companies doing? Where are their patents regarding the future of smartphone tech? Samsung even has wireless charging and now, fast wireless charging — both of which are designed to allow us to charge our devices remotely without burning out batteries and USB chargers in the process. In this, Samsung says, it’s “not just selling phones; we’re leading the market,” which implies that Samsung isn’t just resting on its laurels. What are Motorola, HTC, and Sony doing, among others, to herald the future of mobile? Not much, if patent filings are any consideration.

So, not all Android flagships will ever be the low-cost kind that some tech journalists clamor for. In fact, few Android flagships will ever decline to those prices, seeing that manufacturers need to at least raise money to market their devices and secure famous actors and actresses who can advance their brand. These types of financial desires come with financial costs, and companies will continue to make consumers pay for these necessities. Samsung devices are like Apple devices: they’ll never go the way that most vanilla Android devices will. However, Google’s current decision to introduce the Nexus 6 at $649 with a two-year agreement ($199 up-front) has a lot to do with Google’s admission of wrong: the company once marketed budget-friendly devices, with the latest Nexus and Android update being priced at $300-$350. Last year, Google decided to bring its Nexus experience to carriers, charging $649 for its Nexus 6 (which costs the same as a Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6). Google is bringing both a Huawei Nexus and an LG Nexus 2015 to market this year, but make no mistake: Google’s Project Fi is all about getting users to purchase their smartphones via local retailers and use Google’s new T-Mobile/Sprint MVNO.

As I’ve stated above, Samsung is a company interested in research and development that is working on ways to advance battery life in the current market, not to mention the company’s award-winning cameras and stunning displays. How many other companies are working on futuristic approaches to current problems? Few, if any. These non-innovative companies may need to price their devices lower than Samsung in the future (Motorola with its Moto X 2014 for $499 is such an example), but Samsung won’t have to lower the price of its devices. When you consider the features of the company’s TouchWiz UI, such as its power-saving modes, not to mention its camera software, wireless charging, and AMOLED displays, along with its Exynos octa-core processors, Samsung has a winning formula that will help it outlast the rest.

Vanilla Android fanboys may celebrate the drop of prices on their favorite smartphones, but they’ll still have to pony up “the big bucks” for Samsung’s own take on Android. And hopefully, Tizen OS on high-end smartphones in the future will experience the same popularity as that of Apple’s iPhone.

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