The Android game is so hard: HTC yesterday, Samsung today, Huawei and LG tomorrow

The Android game is so hard: HTC yesterday, Samsung today, Huawei and LG tomorrow

Summary: Smartphone makers are planning to up the Android ante with hardware specs that can be matched in weeks and months. Good luck with that race to the bottom.

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The Mobile World Congress has kicked off with a barrage of items from the Android army. LG wants a Galaxy Nexus device and is going high-end with its hardware specs and components. Huawei makes claims that its Ascend D Quad is the fastest smartphone. And HTC in a bit will outline its great comeback plan.

Credit: CNET, Roger Cheng

Credit: CNET, Roger Cheng

And oh yeah rest assured Samsung will talking up its phones, tablets and other Ice Cream Sandwich-based gear too. The tech press will gush about the latest greatest gadgets, but what's the shelf life here?

CNET @ MWC: Huawei's speedy Ascend D Quad phone debuts (photos) | LG in talks with Google for Nexus device | LG leans on high-end specs in smartphone push | Huawei: Our Ascend D Quad is world's fastest smartphone | Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 to come in 10-inch model, too

The problem for all of these smartphone makers is that it's very hard to differentiate. Let's say Huawei has the fastest smartphone on the block. Guess how long that'll last. Tomorrow in the worst case. A few weeks best case. Why? Other phones will launch quad-core phones too.

LG has the scale to compete with Samsung. And on feature phones it already does. LG has a good chance to compete on the smartphone market too. But LG will only crowd out another Android player.

And then there's HTC. HTC will outline its new devices and play a bit of catch -up to rivals such as Samsung and Motorola Mobility, which incidentally will be owned by Google soon.

The big takeaway here is that smartphone makers are competing on hardware specs that can be emulated by others in short order. Google has the OS and the ecosystem. Sure, HTC, Samsung and the gang can try to provide an ecosystem, but it's a tough sell. When it comes to Android there are too many options already---notably Google and Amazon's app marketplaces.

The race is one that heads right to the bottom. That reality points to scale---LG and Samsung---and low-cost labor---Huawei. Even that duel won't be pretty. The Android economics are set up so that hardware makers kill each other. The fun is just starting to play out at MWC.

Topics: Hardware, HTC, Mobility, Samsung, Smartphones, Telcos

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43 comments
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  • That's called competition

    Its not a race to the bottom. Its generally a good thing that ultimately means the customer gets the greatest at the best price. Do you want them all to sit back and stop innovating?

    Just because somebody else has launched a quad core does not mean LG's or Huwaei's phones have lost shelf life. My nearly two year old HTC Desire is still running most of the apps I throw at it very well.
    ponkarthik
    • Yup

      Agreed. That's the first thing that popped into my mind - competition is generally thought of as a race to the top, not the bottom. Why should it be different for cell phones?
      CobraA1
      • Because it was not for computers

        It is not called competition but commoditization. They are frequently confused though they are very similar. When there is nothing to differentiate your product, the last weapon is always price. The first thing sacrificed to achieve price is quality. This is evident in the ever slowing update cycle handset makers have of getting new OS versions out to older phones. Hence, the race to the bottom.

        No company wants to be commoditized. The cell carriers least of all so they install crapware and force branding on their phones. This includes things like "Droid" and simply putting logos on phones. Handset makers do the same. Spence, TouchWiz and Moto Blur are prime examples. My guess is the carriers will win in not becoming a commodity and Android handset makers will loose.
        Bruizer
    • I agree

      this article is BS and FUD. The android makers are making $$$ hand over fist!
      The Linux Geek
    • but, but, but

      According to the Apple FUD Machine, when Apple releases a new iPhone every year, people are required to pay to upgrade their old device, because the one year old iPhone is too out of date.

      Are you saying people with two year old phones can still run? ;)
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
  • Incompetent journalism. Competition helps.

    Too bad. You need a badge for [b]'Bad journalism'[/b]. Got paid by the fruit?

    It is the incompetent who pull others in an attempt to succeed. In this game of mobiles though there is positive growth past others through good competition.

    Such competition is good for the consumer and the industry too.

    Consumers get great devices be it iOS, Android or Windows stuff, only due to the competition. Am no fanboy, love all those choices today.

    Without this you'd still be paying the same or more to hold a iPhone first generation in your hand today.

    If it were all equal in Android land, explain why Samsung Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Nexus outshine the rest today. Or how HTC's devices managed to pave the path earlier. The answer of course is "there is very good chance for differentiation within android".

    It is a climb to peak and beyond (fly) and for incompetent, it indeed is what you say. But as you've yourself pointed out the winners are not pulling each other down but edging past each other.

    Go learn basic ethics before posting nonsense.
    lout.rlly
    • Better yet, learn basic economics!

      And if the manufacturers are doing so poorly, then why dont they abandon their business?
      otaddy
    • I'm mostly on board with you

      with the sole exception of: "[i]Got paid by the fruit?[/i]

      It's not AFAIK that he's getting paid/ not getting paid by Apple so much as the "click bait" headline we all fell for and continue to fall for here at ZDNet.
      athynz
    • Not sure about that.

      You know why every Windows PC came with those annoying crapware and adware over the years? It wasn't because consumer were demanding it and were benefiting from it, it was for OEMs like DELL to recoup lost revenue from having to drop the prices due to intense competition in the computer space. Shaky junky hardware, bad screen, horrible battery life etc. Heavy competition forces manufacturers to cut corners on hardware/software as they race to the very bottom. And as we are seeing with the update issues on current Android phones, support is also downgraded. Companies are just trying to get you to purchase the latest rather than supporting the previous gen.

      And where is the PC market today after everyone raced to the very bottom? The largest PC maker HP wanted to pull out of the market. Dell is struggling. And now everyone's trying to get consumers to purchase expensive MacBook Air clones (Ultrabooks).
      dave95.
    • How is he wrong?

      Profit margins are so thin with Android, like they are with Windows. Sure it is a win for price conscious consumers, but quality and customer support tends to suffer, and the product becomes commoditized, meaning that everything is about it is so cheaply made that it is practically disposable, and if your product is disposable, then there really is no need to provide good customer support, which is why we see high rankings for Apple in terms of customer satisfaction.

      The largest complaint we see here on ZDNET threads is how Apple is "over-priced" well that is because there is no pressure on Apple to commoditize their product, which means they can command pricing and profit margins, because they are the only ones that make the iPhone product, and how they became the largest cell phone provider in the world. Sure Android may be the most widely available cell phone OS, but Android since it is free provides nothing to cell phone manufactures bottom lines.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
      • Are you kidding?

        Apple tried to remain the high mark up option from the 80s to the 90s and they got swept under by a commoditized PC Market.

        So, if there is no pressure on Apple, why release an 8 Gig iPhone 4 at the same time as you launched the iPhone 4s?

        Or, why all the legal battles to kill samsung in europe (A place where Apple is losing handily to Samsung)?

        The truth is, Android scares them! And you know what, it really should! when somebody tells you they can activate more phones in January, than you activated in the entire holiday shopping season (Black Friday through Christmas), You better worry!
        slickjim
  • Here is the Problem with this article and others...

    The problem with many blogger/journalists in the tech industry is the fact that they focus only on SPECS. They don't focus on experiences. Maybe it's because they don't get a device. Maybe it's because they don't know how to write to it.

    Apple excels because it does EXPERIENCES well. Tech writers would never make it as a car writer or a food writer because they deal with alot of experiences.

    If you wrote about a car, such as a BMW, you would say it would stink because it is overpriced and not as powerful as other cars, that may look sharper, have more interior room or more gadgets.

    But car writers are often enthusiasts and know that it is the driving experience that makes BMW better than another car, even though it doesn't have as many horses, gadgets or space as their competitor does.

    This article (and others) oftern report on specs. This phone has a 8 mega pixel camera, check....This has a 4.7 inch screen...check... But rarely does a tech writer talk about the overall experience. Not enough emphasis is ever given on HOW A PHONE FEELS in your hand, the types of materials that are used. How GOOD THE CAMERA experience is.

    That is why I like HTC. Sense is something that is either liked or not. For me, Sense adds to the experience, but it is rarely talked about because a USER EXPERIENCE is not often apart of the features checklist. They only care about thinness, processor speed, screen size. Most of my friends will NOT buy a phone with a 4.7 inch screen.

    I personally think that tech journalists are some of the laziest out there. I love guys who review things like Stereo equipment, because they will often give their own experiences while listening to the latest amplifier, talking about presence, soundstage and definition, which are not features checklists.
    casualsuede
    • Agreed!

      I strongly agree with almost all you said and I mostly agree with the rest! There just isn't enough focus on the entire experience and most of the reviews I've read tend to miss things that I find in short order. True, I don't have to test dozens of phones, but I do think if I reviewed 3-5 phones in a year that I'd have a MUCH more thorough read.

      I'd also love to see some long-term reviews of previous products. Help users to see which brands provide value after the sale. Reliability, upgrade-ability, customer service. If we start penalizing companies that leave customers hanging post-sale (by not buying from them in the future), then those companies will improve or fail.

      Let me mention how much I hated my wife's Motorola Flipside. A great little qwerty-keyboard-based phone for the first 60 days of ownership or so. Then it all went to hell when we found it it couldn't handle more than about 5 apps in total. Motorola had given it too little RAM and allowed AT&T to load that tiny ram *full* of useless AT&T crap. And each updated built-in app further reduced the available RAM until it was near 0 and started throwing up out-of-memory errors. If you look at customer reviews of this phone, you'll find this is a common tale. But I don't know of too many "professional" reviews that paint anywhere nearly so bleak a picture.

      This past December I paid a good chunk of money to AT&T to get away from that horrid little phone. I only wish I had done it sooner.

      So Motorola has lost me as a customer for the foreseeable future, no matter how good the Droid 9 or whatever might appear. Fool me once....
      bmgoodman
    • yep

      Sense is decent, Beats is very well done, the fastest LTe device on the planet, the highest Pixel density screens... Basically, HTC isn't playing catch up, they are ahead of the game!
      slickjim
    • Agreed as well

      I owned a couple of HTC devices and even though they ran WM I loved the hardware. With the iPhone I got the whole ecosystem as well as killer hardware and a great user experience. When I bought my Samsung Fascinate to replace my BB I expected to be wowed by the hardware at least... but that was not the case at all. My next Android phone will be an HTC.
      athynz
      • they are still at the top man

        Think about it, what one phone outsold the iPhone for more than 3 months? the EVO and they are the only company to have two phones out sell it for any period of time (The other was the thunderbolt)...

        HTC's phone hardware is still top notch, the overlay is the same as on the old Windows Mobile but much improved. They have a small eco system but rely on Amazon and Google for most of it. They are also positioned as the only company able to make a run at Apple's speaker dock dominance.

        reality is, HTC was missing only the Super Amoled screens but, they now have those and have decided to focus on fewer options across multiple carriers.
        slickjim
  • Author needs to take a logic class

    Hey, author!!!

    How is ever-better gadgets 'a race to the bottom'? Think about it.
    avrwc2
  • Hang on! Hang on!

    We're being bombarded every day about Android fragmentation with journobloggers complaining that there's too much fragmentation in the Android world. Now you're complaining that they're not different enough.

    I'm very happy with my HTC Sensation. I got one, not because it had the best specs but because it did less of the things I didn't want it to as well as more of the things it did. There were plenty of differences and a quite a few of them had very little to do with the actual specs. This is the area where differentiation is going to matter.

    One of the reasons I prefer the Sensation to the Galaxy SII is simply down to what it looks and feels like. Another reason is that HTC tend to be first with introducing new OSs to their older products and generally speaking their customer support is better than most of the other Android manufacturers.

    Of course there are other differences. Now, I'll admit there's no real need for the HTC Sense *skin* anymore since ICS but there's plenty more to Sense than what it looks like. HTC Sense is not just a skin but an API so that HTC's home built apps can talk to each other (eg so Facebook photos can appear in the HTC gallery for instance). Also, for the most part HTC's apps are superior to stock apps and in some cases better than the best third party alternatives. OK, so HTC need to dial back the visual aspects of Sense but keep that interoperability that does actually make the difference.

    Now I don't expect everyone to agree with me about the quality or value of HTC's software but if you don't there's plenty of others to choose from.

    HTC's problem is that they've released so many models with completely different names, people can't keep up. Better if they just keep to a handful of names and just stick suffixes on them to denote areas of expertise and revision numbers and they'll be back in the game.

    I'm in no rush to upgrade my Sensation just yet. Maybe if/when the Tegra3 GPUs are on all the high spec Android phones, the Sensation might look a bit old but as I've never got on with touchscreen/accelerometer action games in the first place, I can't see me being that bothered about it when it does happen.
    dale303
  • Well Windows Phone would be easy then.

    Since the software only supports one core keeping up should be easy. A nice non-fragmented hardware experience with what, two major reference platforms and only mild deviation permitted? That's a nice gentle evolutionary development to work with.

    Except of course for all of those high-powered Android phones you have to compete with.
    symbolset
  • It's the vendors

    There's no question that consumers benefit when company managements allow assets to be employed for zero or no return. If you can get people to do work for you for free, that's great.

    We've seen this movie back when it was called "the PC business." A bunch of guys run around assembling parts from Intel or AMD, putting Microsoft's OS on it, and selling it for fifty cents more than it cost them to build it. As a result, they have no money with which to do R&D, so they don't innovate. They leave the R&D to Intel and Microsoft.

    What happens next is that two companies who weren't playing "the PC business" actually innovated, and created a totally new market. These were Research in Motion and Apple, who basically caused the smartphone revolution. Notice who slept through the whole thing: Intel, Microsoft, HP, and Dell... the PC "winners."

    Guess who's going to sleep through the Next Big Thing? The big Android players, probably including NVidia and Qualcomm.

    Apple probably won't sleep through it. Why? Because they make sure they make enough money to do R&D, including software development. It's the guys who farm their R&D out to suppliers (because they can't afford to do anything else) who get caught when the game changes.

    The people who say the consumers win this game are right. The author was talking about the Android vendors, and he's right: they will lose. The best of them will end up like HP did in PCs, wondering if they ought to get out of the business even though they've "won."
    Robert Hahn