If anyone could unseat Samsung for Android dominance, who could it be? It’s unlikely anyone could have the worldwide presence Samsung has, but there are a few interesting wrinkles to that issue. Is Samsung as solvent as we think, or are they crumbling behind the scenes? Are some of the smaller players in mobile stronger than we know?
Being the biggest name only means you have the biggest target on your back. Let’s take a hard look at which mobile company could disrupt Samsung’s reign.
The toy group
We should begin with the little, lesser known brands. The little yappy dogs in this fight that make a bit of noise, but are often dismissed quickly and easily. Some of them aspire to greatness, and some of them are just coming into their own.
Oppo is an Asian-centric company, and their new Oppo 5 handset will be launching in China first. A gorgeous 5-inch display with quite a bit of muscle behind it is very attractive, to say the least. They have designs on bringing that handset to North America, so we may get to find out what Oppo is about for ourselves soon.
If, however, they don’t get their new device to us here in the US soon, they will lose ground. If they wait too long to get the device released worldwide, they risk being laughed out of the dog park. Oppo should tread lightly, but move quickly as well.
Pronounced “show me”, Xiaomi is in a great position to really challenge the world market. Although relatively unknown here in the US, they already have a good presence in Asia and contribute to a very exciting trend for consumers: the high end device with a low end price. Their 2012 offering, a namesake phone offered at around $320US, had a dual core Snapdragon processor under the hood. That’s not coming to market with your fingers crossed, that’s kicking the door in and announcing your presence.
Xiaomi is also a start-up, and the mobile market is thick. Every startup faces the same problem of being properly capitalized, so if they aren’t, there is nothing stopping a larger company from turning their lights out or simply purchasing them. Their 2012 offering, the Xiaomi Phone 2, was admittedly sold well below cost. They have a nice lineup of accessories with which to recoup some of that lost profit, but selling a device at below cost is just, well, bad business. Xiaomi is either subtly brilliant or bat-crap crazy. Either way, they’ll have to show me they have the goods.
The non sporting group
Maybe not the biggest in the business, but they may just be well positioned to work their way into a front runner position. These are brands you’ve heard quite a bit from, even if you haven’t had a chance to pick up one of their devices (yet). Maybe they’re the next big thing, or maybe they are best suited right where they are.
Huawei is dead set on establishing themselves. They are releasing handsets for the US market as well as Asia, and seem to have a great strategy for establishing a true world presence. Huawei makes beautiful devices that can keep up with the market trends, and seem poised to operate on both sides of the pond. Their new dual-SIM device on offer in China suggests they will produce one phone for a true world market.
There is, of course, the case of the Ascend Mate 2. This… I don’t know, “phone” I guess… has a 6.1” screen. A beautiful device, but maybe damaging to Huawei’s reputation. Many users already scoff at the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which is 5.5”, so going even larger could make Huawei seem silly. As a first introduction for many to Huawei, this sets a bad precedence.
ZTE has the distinction of having phones readily available in the US market. Their phones have been available here for about a year, so we’re fairly familiar with their stuff. Their new Grand S may be something to behold, with a 13MP camera on the back and a 5-inch Gorilla Glass screen. In a lot of ways, ZTE seems to be picking up where HTC may have left off.
Beauty is attractive, but brains will keep you around. Some reviews site the Grand S as being a bit unresponsive to touch, and what good is a killer camera if the screen didn’t register you wanted the picture taken? ZTE may have a full lineup of phones ranging from entry level to top end (like the Grand S is positioned), but unless they bring a first-class experience to their high end phones, they’re better off making mid to entry level phones.
The sporting group
These dogs have legs and can run for miles. They often have devices that are considered the best around, but have trouble keeping up with the big boys. A very poised and diligent group, these manufacturers are always on the precipice of taking over. The question is, do they have what it takes?
A mainstay of our recent smartphone lives, HTC has fallen off a bit recently. We tend to forget all the great devices HTC has given us, and we shouldn’t count them out just yet. Even with the odd acquisition of Beats Audio and a few other questionable business moves, HTC is still in a decent position to reclaim their position near the top of the heap.
It’s important to remember that HTC was ZTE or Huawei a few years ago. They made some great devices, and some smart moves, to get into a leadership position. Had Samsung not stepped up and thrown a lot of muscle behind their smartphone offerings, we may still consider HTC a pre-eminent device maker. Unfortunately, we’re standing back and watching the free-fall.
Can they get it all back?
Absolutely! HTC may have seen their sales plummet the past year or so, but they can return to our good graces. Their HTC One series is a triumph, and it benefitted from the Nexus 4 debacle in that people were turning their attention to the One in angst as they were unable to get a Nexus device. With a device that was both available and pretty amazing, HTC once again dug their heels in.
Let’s not assume HTC has fallen off completely due to a few questionable business moves and devices. Instead, let’s hope they do two things: get real, and get working. If HTC can put their head down, focus, and string a few great devices together, Samsung could be in real trouble.
Life really is good for LG lately. The Nexus 4 is a fabulous device, and the Optimus line is well received. Where LG was thought of as little more than a TV manufacturer, they are definitely making their claim to the mobile device world. Hinting at a blossoming partnership with Google is something to keep in the back of your mind as LG makes its next set of moves.
Or was it an assumption by LG? What, exactly, did their hint at “more devices” as a result of a Google partnership mean? What conclusions can be drawn from that, and should we worry? Let’s be blunt: the Nexus 4 launch, and subsequent availability, is a disaster. Why would Google want to involve themselves with a manufacturer that makes them look this bad? Samsung has set a really high bar to leap over, so we have to wonder if LG is the company that can do it.
Can they rise to the occasion?
Yes, they can. They have some things to iron out, like actually buying into Android, but they can succeed. Nobody knows all the details, but not being able to get a Nexus 4 reeks of LG simply giving up to focus on their own Optimus lineup. LG was blessed to get the chance at making the Nexus 4, and it seems as though they’ve worn their welcome, at least with Android fans. A fabulous phone, no doubt, but phones are meant to be used and… you know… purchased.
LG is a curious ally for Google. Samsung really spoiled us all in terms of quality and availability. Sure, there were times when Samsung devices were unavailable, but it was never for long. The eyes of the world are on LG since the Nexus 4, so they’ll have to make all the right moves from now on if they want to be considered a true threat to Samsung.
The Working Group
These are the titans of industry. Established, well received, and resilient. They may make mistakes from time-to-time, but they always bounce back to give us great devices. If you need a device that rarely disappoints, these are the dogs you want to race with.
Let’s not forget that Motorola has given us some truly iconic devices over the course of time. The Droid line is a solid performer, and the return of the Razr has been wonderful. The Razr HD Maxx with its gigantic battery is a design more manufacturers should consider, as battery life becomes a major concern for us as consumers.
What Motorola needs to do is get out of bed with Verizon. Their partnership, while great for both parties, severely limits Motorola from becoming a dynamite player. A Ferrari in a garage is useless, but if you get it out to run… you’ll see something special. They make great devices, so we’d love to see them available to a wider audience.
The recent acquisition by Google should really make Motorola a powerhouse. The rumored “X” line of devices is shrouded in mystery, but led by Google. Could that be the new Nexus lineup, or is it something else? Something… bigger, maybe? With Google I/O right around the corner, we’re hoping it will shed light on this exciting mystery. We’re also hoping Google finally accepts Motorola into the fold completely, rather than operating it as a separate entity.
We don’t often factor Sony into our mobile device decision here in the states, but hold the phone, kids: Sony is a big deal. Sony is sticking to their strong suit in concentrating on high-end devices rather than making devices to suit all needs. The Xperia Z looks to be the business, too. It seems to have won best in show at CES this year, raking in 10 “major” awards. Also, if James Bond uses an Xperia, it has to be good, right?
Not necessarily. Sony has it’s fair share of the world’s mobile market at 1.9%, but that’s down from about 8% in 2008. A troubling statistic, but the market may be returning to them a bit rather than Sony having to give chase. As we enter a time when powerful, sleek phones are the order of the day, Sony seems primed to stake their claim. Sony is wonderful at making gorgeous high end devices in any field they choose, so their only real challenge will to be keeping cost down. We need premium devices, but we want fair prices. Sony has to realize that to really be a player in mobile.
Every dog show has a judge, and your judge for today is Google. Google leads the way by framing the Android landscape. The Open Handset Alliance keeps partners in check, and keeping Android open source keeps it competitive. If a Samsung loses their focus on Android ever so slightly, it would be easy for someone like an LG or HTC to usurp them.
The Nexus “contract” is also a boon for manufacturers. LG was a middle of the road player until the Nexus 4, and now are considered near the top of the heap. The same can be said for Samsung until they got the Nexus S contract a few years ago. Sure, the design and execution of the Nexus is definitely more Google that whatever manufacturer makes it, but those manufacturers get a lot of the praise. When we think of the Galaxy Nexus, we think of what a great job Samsung did… not Google. That’s fine, but don’t mistake Google as simply placing orders for devices.
Then again, the judge just bought a dog. The Motorola acquisition signals Google’s intent of taking more control of the Android experience from top to bottom. If Google can have a hand in every aspect rather than send out requests to manufacturers, we could be seeing some stellar devices that really drive Android further and set a standard. Couple that with Google’s intent to become an MVNO, and it could be game over for everyone else.
If we’re asking who we’d look to if Samsung had an Enron moment and folded up almost overnight, it would be LG. LG is making the best devices lately, and if they get their act together could lead the industry. The real wrinkle to this equation is Motorola, though. Even with their recent failures and lack of device support, having Google backing Motorola is huge. Google is clearly playing the Motorola partnership close to the chest, and it’s smart to do so. Alienating other partners could be disastrous for Android, so it’s best that Google supports Motorola as an equal to other partners rather than a favorite child.