Smartphones weren’t the annoying new product category they were before. That tablet you carry everywhere in your pocket isn’t a futuristic gadget anymore – it feels like a device. As consumers settle into ecosystems and brand loyalty, we’ve seen competition for smartphones shrink. While regions like China and India are rife with new brands, North America and, to a lesser extent, Europe, are dropping to a handful of companies — and nothing seems likely to improve.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of LG’s withdrawal from the mobile market, and while the company’s flagships had failed to sell any meaningful numbers for years – shout out to all LG Velvet owners, of course – its low-end phones were still a solid success, leaving something of a hole in the American market. North. Without any futuristic K series phones lining the walls of your local carrier, someone had to occupy that space.
This is where Motorola comes in. While the company has made a (less-than-glory) return to flagship phones this year, it still primarily sells G-series devices priced under $500. Without LG, Motorola managed to capture a significant portion of the budget market space, gaining a boost to third place in the US almost a year after the day LG quietly disappeared. Given the budget space—which research firm Counterpoint considers under $400—it’s better for the company, ranking second in this category.
Looking at the share of sales in the US, Motorola’s shift to third place happened in April 2021, the same month the company closed its mobile division. Although Moto hasn’t quite risen in the year since then — still hanging around 10 percent — LG hasn’t fallen for anything, as those phones collecting dust on Best Buy’s shelves are finally gone.
OK, but what about upscale? LG wasn’t a major player initially, but its absence can still be felt when comparing current flagships like the Galaxy S22 and Google Pixel 6. Where’s the LG V80 or G12 to battle against the monotony of smartphone trends? Talk to any old-school Galaxy Note fan, and they’ll tell you how much they miss headphone jacks and expandable storage — two things LG offered up until the end. There was also this sense of fun. Samsung’s lineup of foldable devices may be unique, but it has nothing in the LG Wing, or the foldable smartphone that has never seen the light of day.
LG’s loss from the market is another sign that phone options are slowly dwindling, especially in the US. A look at global smartphone sales makes it clear. Apple and Samsung currently lead the pack, with Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo in the top five. While Oppo’s numbers include OnePlus, Xiaomi and Vivo they do not have US-based sales channels. Everyone else – including Motorola – finds themselves in the “others” category.
The competition looks bleaker if you focus on “premium” smartphones, which Counterpoint defines as any device priced over $400. It’s no surprise that Apple dominates in this area, although the range may surprise even die-hard tech enthusiasts. The latest figures show the share of global iPhone sales in this category at a whopping 60 percent in 2021, an increase of 5 percent over the previous year. Samsung is still in second place, but with only 13 percent holding that space — 4 percent down from 2020. While Oppo has managed to increase its numbers — from 2 to 4 percent — none of these companies has been able to keep up with Apple’s sales numbers. This should relate to any Android user who wants the mobile space to remain competitive.
The fact that Apple’s entire range of smartphones is priced above $400 obviously plays a role. But without the world’s LGs and HTCs – and with Xiaomi and Huawei out of the North American market – there isn’t much room for opponents. OnePlus’ current production is a disaster, as it focuses mainly on emerging markets such as China and India, to the detriment of its fans in North America and Europe. Beginners like Nothing and OSOM can make enthusiasts happy, but they’re unlikely to convince anyone standing at a Verizon store to switch from Samsung or Apple.
This problem is not new. We’ve been discussing it on Android Police for over four years now. But with the gap between Apple, Samsung and the rest of the industry widening — particularly in the premium space, which captures the majority of our attention — it looks worse than ever. This problem didn’t start with LG leaving a year ago; It just showed us the problems we’re dealing with on a bigger level than ever. With the competition gone, don’t be surprised if new features start to stagnate, prices keep rising, and in general, phones continue their march toward the “hardware” territory.
LG’s latest round of smartphones hasn’t been great, and from a business perspective, pulling out of the market altogether was the right move. But when it comes to innovation, risk taking, and the feeling of throwing everything against the wall only to see what gets stuck, the industry is worse off than it has ever been.
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