Mobiles & Tablets

The smartphone industry needs concept products, too

Bloomberg Feb 25 | Updated on February 25, 2019 Published on February 25, 2019

Huawei's Mate X   -  Bloomberg

The Samsung Galaxy Fold phone is shown on a screen at Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Unpacked event in San Francisco, California, US.   -  Reuters

When companies turn to gimmicks as the headline act in a product launch, you know there’s not much really going on.

We can’t blame Samsung Electronics Co and Huawei Technologies Co for releasing $2,000 and $2,600 phones respectively. Foldable screens are kind of cool, I suppose. But so are those weird and wonderful concept cars the auto industry likes to bring out let me remind you about the Ford Nucleon, the BMW Gina and the Chevy Volt which sometimes turn into viable products.

Unfortunately, the tech industry moves so quickly that developers don’t often get a chance to roll out concept devices that are intended to showcase the future more than drive sales.

Also read: Unfolding the Foldable: Everyone’s interested in bending screens

The Galaxy Fold and Mate X, unveiled within a week of each other, fulfil that role. The difference is that both companies intend to make them available for sale which is why they have astronomical price tags.

These bold moves to release pricey products has been ascribed to Apple Inc’s relative success in bringing out more expensive iPhones. In reality, industry prices were already trending up well before the world gasped at the idea of spending $1,449 on a consumer-oriented smart phone. (Let’s try to forget Vertu for a minute).

Also read: Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is full of innovation but comes at a gasp-inducing cost

While Huawei has a reputation for cheap devices, the Chinese company led this charge in 2015 with the average price of its models climbing 17 per cent that year while shipments rose 45 per cent and the premium end was a significantly larger proportion of the company’s total unit sales. The rest of the market followed, with prices jumping 10 per cent in the subsequent two years.

Also read: Huawei launches new $2600 foldable 5G phone

At a time when the smart phone market is in a funk, companies need to find something to excite their audience. 5G is a huge talking point at Mobile World Congress this week despite the fact that this technology barely advances the ball for smart phones its real advantage is for Internet of Tthings devices such as cars.

Most people are happy with their 6.5-inch slate, but thankfully Samsung and Huawei are here to show us what the future might hold for those with more realistic budgets. And when Apple finally brings out a foldable phone in about two years fans will marvel at the innovation and queue around the corner to get their hands on one.

(The author Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology.)

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Published on February 25, 2019
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