It might be popular to say focus more, or innovate more, but the truth is that over the years we’ve seen companies succeed following radically different hardware strategies, both aggressive and conservative. It all depends on their position in the market, the product they’re offering, and the general state of the market.
Aggressive specs appeal to geeks, to people who want the latest and the greatest. It’s the biggest screen, fastest radio, and most modern features now, now, now. Even if the screen technology isn’t perfect yet, battery life suffers, and the features are piled on rather than thought out, some people just want the future in the palm of their hand as soon and possible.
Aggressive specs appeal to geeks, to people who want the latest and the greatest.
Certain manufacturers know that, and they’re willing to beef up processors, amp up cameras, and even lower profit margins if it means getting the ultimate geek phone out first. There’s a slew of manufacturers involved in this, and we’re seeing brutal one-upsmanship even between manufacturers on the same platform – in particular, Android.
When the operating system is the same, specs are one of the most obvious ways to differentiate. Who could get to LTE first? Who could get to 1080p displays first? Stereo speakers? Espresso maker?!
This strategy appeals to the early adopters, but that can pose a problem. There’s constantly new technology, so the latest and greatest won’t be so for long. With such a short shelf life, this model can become unsustainable. They can never achieve economies of scale on their production runs, and economies of scale are what lead to profits.
One arc minute
In 2010, Apple released the iPhone 4, bringing ultra-high-resolution screens to the smartphone market. Apple marketed the 326 pixels-per-inch display as a “Retina display.” The “retina” name was derived from the human eye – the retina is the light-sensitive tissue on the back of the eyeball – which is capable of discriminating between two points separated by approximately 1/60th of a degree (one arc minute). The 0.078 mm-wide pixels of the iPhone 4’s Retina display were too small for the human eye to discern at a normal use distance.
Prior to the iPhone 4, the highest resolution screens barely pushed up against the 300 ppi barrier. Post-iPhone 4, it took the other manufacturers time to catch up, though they have since leapfrogged the Retina display. New 1080p “full HD” screens on devices from HTC, LG, and Samsung have pushed the upper boundary of pixel density up past 440 pixels-per-inch, far beyond what the human eye is capable of seeing.
That’s why we’re seeing even high-end Android handset manufacturers push the specs envelope a little less and aim for a longer lifecycle for the phone, so they can get better component pricing over the run of the device given the higher volume.
This approach has been core to both Apple and BlackBerry over the years. They focus on experience, and use specs as a way to make that experience perform well. They don’t need to be cutting edge, they just need to be good enough to make the experience cutting edge.
Yet by the same token, because of the longer shelf life, even current phones can feel old or outdated, especially when other platforms feel like they’re launching new models every week or two.
It all comes down to striking the right balance between specs and experience, performance and price. That lets manufacturers stay profitable, and consumers stay happy.
Is it better to be aggressive or conservative with specifications? Really, the answer comes down to yes… and no…
– Derek Kessler, Managing Editor, Mobile Nations
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