This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Smartphones used to be this bustling emerging market where each and every company with a good idea had a shot. If you have been following the industry in the past decade, you probably remember how each phone maker had kind of their own trick of trade: HTC used to make dual speaker phones with industrial design that stood out, LG was the one with the quirky ideas. Want a crazy modular phone or a 3D screen? LG used to have your back with Optimus 3D Max. Even Samsung dipped its toe in freaky smartphones back then: the Samsung Galaxy Beam had a built-in pico projector, remember that?And then there were other brands: Motorola would innovate with affordable flagships, Chinese companies would push other types of innovation like super fast VOOC charging on Oppo phones. Or should I go back to Palm days where we used to get a third operating system with its own touch interface unlike any other phone out there?
And I am not even going back to the Nokia days where funky was the name of the game but these days I just risk sounding way too old just by mentioning that brand.
The first true modern smartphone was born not too long ago
Just a bit more than a decade has passed since the inception of the modern smartphone, and look around the smartphone landscape in 2021: LG is on the verge of selling its smartphone business, and honestly, this feels like the right decision, HTC is long gone and forgotten, while other companies like Huawei were driven out of the market via regulation. Sony is still around, but it seems that it only sells phones to those loyal three fans that still remember the Walkman days.
And while one could easily argue that it was these companies’ bad decisions and crazy designs that brought them to their demise, there is also the other side of the coin and that is that the smartphone market has become just a bit too boring and devoid of competition. Sure, you have your Samsungs and your Apples, but is there really a true high-end flagship phone by any other brand that one could recommend without some concern?
Google that was supposed to make a splash on the smartphone market settled for average budget devices that are not bad, but not quite great either.
OnePlus, my favorite up and coming brand, is still struggling to deliver a great camera on a flagship (hopefully this changes in the OnePlus 9 Pro that’s coming soon!).
Are Apple and Samsung all that’s left?
And if things stay this way, we will just be left with Apple and Samsung. And while there is nothing wrong with Apple and Samsung (and I myself currently oscillate between an iPhone 12 and a Galaxy S21 Ultra), it just feels that having just two big players is actually slowing down innovation instead of accelerating it.
There is quite a bit of evidence pointing to that already: if it wasn’t for Huawei a few years ago, we probably wouldn’t quite have the revolution in Night Mode photography on phones that we have now; and if it wasn’t for Google’s computation photography advances, we wouldn’t have HDR quite as good as we do now; and the list goes on and on. And of course, we see how Apple and Samsung are way behind Chinese phone makers. Just recently, we saw the Vivo iQOO 7 ship with a 120W charger in the box that recharges the 4,000mAh battery inside that phone from 0 to 100% in just 18 minutes. How do iPhones compare? Well, how about a full 1 hour and 45 minutes for a full charge on iPhones.
My worry is that with less real competition, innovation slows down, and that cannot be a good thing, even in a market that already seems quite mature as the smartphone one.