Opinion: Brands Are Releasing Too Many Smartphone Models

Despite the recent figures that Apple appears to be making all the money in the smartphone world, it’s important for the likes of Samsung, Sony, LG and Lenovo to keep up appearances and to keep on releasing smartphones. In the case of flagship devices like the Galaxy S7 Edge, LG V20 and Lenovo Moto Z, these releases represent more than just “keeping up with the Joneses”. Instead, these are devices that are meant to get their brand out there, to compete with the iPhone not only in price, but also in terms of features as well as value for money. These are devices that manufacturers should be working hard on to make as best they can do, but for every Galaxy S7 Edge out there, there appears to be a different storage version, or a “Play” version of another phone. Not only do these different variants of the same model of phone look ridiculous, but it’s become confusing for consumers as well, and it’s about time that companies gave us a break.

To get a feel for what I’m talking about, we only need to consider Lenovo’s strategy for their 2016 lineup of Moto devices. Traditionally, we’ve seen Motorola release a Moto G, Moto X and Moto E device for the year. Each of which targets a different part of the market and a different price sector, and for a while this was a great strategy on their part. It drew definitive lines in the sand that made it clear who each device was for. Then Lenovo came along. Since then, we’ve seen the Moto G and Moto X spawn “Play” and “Plus” editions, and even this year’s excellent Moto Z was subject to this same treatment. In one year alone, the Moto Z has launched in the following variants; the Moto Z, the Moto Z Play, the Moto Z Droid, the Moto Z Force Droid and Moto Z Play Droid. We all know the story behind the “Droid” variants, being the devices that Motorola is contractually-obligated to provide Verizon with each and every year, but why do we even have the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play to begin with. It’s easy to argue that the $449.99 Moto Z Play gives users an easy choice between it and the $699.00 Moto Z, but the Moto Z Force is only really a bigger battery and 21-megapixel camera away from being the Moto Z, so what gives? It’s clear that Lenovo is trying to hit as many pockets as they can with the new Moto Z line, and given its flexibility, this is admirable, but it’s gone too far.

Users realistically only want to choose between two different types of devices; those that are cheaper, and those that are “better”. Choosing the former is a great option or the average user, and those that are unsure of what the better specifications and extra features will really mean to them in the long run, while the latter is of course for people like us, as well as those that want to feel a little superior to those that chose the former. Having four, five or even six different variants of a device is crazy, and it’s become very, very confusing. Speaking of those looking for the lower-priced option, that used to be the Moto G, which used to come in either 3G or 4G versions. Now, it comes in a Moto G4, Moto G4 Play and Moto G4 Plus, each of which is only separated by a price gap of $50. Why can’t there be just one Moto G4? The Moto G4 Plus is a larger device that also has a fingerprint sensor, a feature usually left for higher-cost devices. Sure, it’s nice for such a feature to make its way down to this end of the market, but surely, this is something that the average user could do without, and something that if they really wanted could find on the Moto Z.

Enough of Motorola, how about we look at companies that get it right? One of which is of course, OnePlus. Depending on your outlook, it might be strange to imagine OnePlus doing anything right – especially with the OnePlus 3T on the way – but right from the beginning the firm has kept their lineup simple. The original OnePlus One came in either Sandstone or Silk White, and that was about it. The OnePlus 2 originally launched with a 16GB variant, but soon they cut this and sold only the 64GB model with 4GB of RAM in the one color, they then left it up to the user to choose whether they wanted a different color or case afterwards. This is a great way of selling a phone, and the OnePlus 3 is the same, available in just one model with 64GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. Even though the OnePlus 3T is around the corner, it is likely that the firm will simply phase out the original OnePlus 3 and continue to sell just the one option. It’s the right way to do things, and when someone says “Buy a OnePlus 3”, there’s rarely a “which one?” follow-up question.

When thinking of OnePlus, it’s hard not to think of price, and another recent release that has people thinking of price is of course the new Pixel lineup. The Pixel starts at $649, and given the reviews that it’s been getting, is arguably worth the asking price, but then there are two variants of each the Pixel and the Pixel XL, giving users the choice between either 32GB or 128GB of storage. Considering that neither come with a microSD card slot, it is nice to see a larger version available, but wouldn’t it be better to just have one 128GB Pixel and one 128GB Pixel XL? It would make the device even easier to sell, and make the base option feel more “worth it” if only because there’s nothing else to compare it to in the store.

I’m a Galaxy S7 Edge owner, and while it appears Samsung doesn’t offer the same myriad of different models, this isn’t the case. As I live in the UK, I have the SM-G935F version of the device, which is standard across much of Europe, but then there’s the SM-G935V for Verizon in the US, the SM-G935T for T-Mobile, the SM-G935L, S and K models for South Korea and the SM-G9350 for China. We could forgive Samsung here, as any manufacturer that releases devices in as many markets as Samsung and at that sort of scale will need to keep track of their device models and capabilities, but Samsung has been doing for this years, and it’s not only confusing, but a little annoying, too. Updates will launch for a version the Snapdragon 820 that aren’t compatible with my Exynos 8890 version and vice-versa, different models will get different updates at different times, and it all becomes confusing, without ever needing to be that confusing. After all, if Apple can get by with just a few model numbers denoting little more than storage, then why can’t Samsung?

Choice is of course one of the biggest strengths that Android has, and it’s an easy sell, too, but there is always such a thing as a too much of a good thing. We’re so lucky that we can choose from phones from ASUS, BLU, Lenovo, Motorola, LG, Samsung, Sony, Google, HTC, Xiaomi, Meizu, ZTE, Huawei, BlackBerry, Alcatel, the list goes on and on. It’s great that we have so much choice, but then to give us even more choice like the “Play” and “Plus” models of each phone becomes tiring. There is a reason that OnePlus has become far more successful than anyone thought they could be, and it’s because their offerings are simple, easy-to-understand and you can buy their one phone online and have it delivered to you no matter where in the world you are. The same could be said of Samsung, while they have different variants of the Galaxy S7 Edge for regional reasons, there’s only one Galaxy S7 Edge, there’s not a “Plus” or “Pro” version of the device, it’s easy to sell and easy to understand for buyers. It’s time for manufacturers and brands all over the world to cut down on the amount of different storage versions of a phone they sell, as well as how many different options they have for different price points. In doing so, they will not only have less devices to explain to buyers, but they will have less stock lying around, and might even find that they make more money as result,

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About the Author
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Tom Dawson

Former Editor-in-Chief
For years now I've had a heavy interest in technology, growing up with 8-bit computers and gaming consoles has fed into an addiction to everything that beeps. Android saved me from the boredom of iOS years ago and I love watching the platform grow. As an avid reader and writer nothing pleases me more than to write about the exciting world of Android, Google and mobile technology as a whole.
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