The smartphone industry is in a constant state of change, where the establishment are easily and quickly unsettled or in some cases, unceremoniously removed from their pedestal. There are many ways that the industry is being changed, including the rapid rate of smartphone growth in some developing markets such as India, where a rapidly growing population is meeting rapidly expanding carrier networks, fueled by inexpensive smartphones that are being manufactured in the country itself. The Chinese market, which has long been supplied by huge numbers of inexpensive devices, is showing a structural change: customers are paying considerably more for a device in 2016 compared with 2013, which shows that the average selling price of handsets has moved from $207 in 2013 to $257 in 2016.
Conversely, the western smartphone markets work in a very different way, where the majority of customers are on their second or subsequent smartphone and carriers are moving towards showing greater transparency of prices. We are seeing a shift towards mid-range devices because not all customers are willing to spend many hundreds of dollars on a flagship smartphone, but instead are more comfortable with a cheaper mid-range device. Indeed, given that 2016's mid-range devices are in most cases a more powerful and better specified device compared with a flagship 2014 device, savvy customers are saving their money: the smartphone has quickly become a commodity item. For many people, "good enough" is both better than they've had before and more than adequate for their needs.
The effects of both of these structural changes is that manufacturers are seeing rising demand for mid-range models. We have also seen a new class of device, the super mid-range models, which slot in between the traditional mid-range and the flagship ends of the market. Super mid-range is a term credited to MediaTek with its family of chipsets that offer a specification greater than the traditional mid-range chipset, but not to the same level as the flagship or high end chips.
The idea behind super mid-range smartphones is simple: customers get most of the best features of the flagship handsets from a device that costs considerably less. 2016's super mid-range models are typically comparable to 2015's flagship devices. To put numbers into the equation; many 2015 flagship models came with a high end 64-bit processor, 3 GB of RAM and a FHD or QHD display. The Oppo R9 comes with a 2.0 GHz, octa core, 64-bit MediaTek super mid-range chipset, 4 GB of RAM and a 5.5-inch, 1080p display. However, the R9 is considerably cheaper than flagship devices, selling at no more than 2,800 yuan, which is approximately £300 or $400 - this is around half the price of the equivalent 64 GB Samsung Galaxy S6 at its launch in 2015. There is another reason why manufacturers and customers are keen on the super mid-range devices: Apple and Samsung have the premium, expensive smartphone market largely wrapped up.
Manufacturers are increasingly looking to reasons other than specification in order to differentiate their products. We have seen many manufacturers move to offering metal chassis designs offered at lower and lower prices. Some manufacturers are offering proprietary technologies to encourage customers to use their smartphones, such as Samsung and Samsung Pay. We have also seen movement from manufacturers offering software support for less-than-flagship devices, which traditionally have not received support for as long as the flagships. However, with more and more manufacturers offering powerful smartphones at less than traditional flagship pricing, and manufacturers jostling to differentiate their products, arguably it has never been a better time to buy a new device - especially if you do not require or want the very latest in technology.