When LG arrived at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the company’s Vice Chairman Cho Sung-jin suggested the tech giant may be dropping its annual flagship release cycle in favor of a more streamlined product strategy meant to revive its horrible sales that have seen its mobile unit post heavy losses for three consecutive years. The gist of the cited reasoning was by delivering new high-end models when it’s ready to do so, LG would be able to focus on creating innovative offerings instead of just blindly following suit with its rivals, most of whom release new premium devices every six months. While many industry watchers presumed that LG’s ambitions to “retain existing models longer” will lead to a more conservative product launch strategy moving forward, the exact opposite now seems to be unfolding.
A few months following its announcement of that mobile strategy shift, LG introduced new color variants of the year-old G6, revised the 2017 V30 model with the V30S ThinQ — that’s basically the same thing with more RAM, storage, and some software tweaks that are now also rolling out to the original device — and announced the G7 ThinQ. Reliable reports are now suggesting the V35 ThinQ is also in the works and due to be released this summer, whereas the V40 should follow it to market shortly afterwards. The only question that remains is – why?
Arguably, one of the biggest issues LG has been facing in the mobile market since late 2014 is its inability to follow up on flagship announcements with timely releases, with consumer interest in its products often dropping by the time they have hit store shelves. Instead of addressing that problem directly, LG now appears to be dead-set on announcing a new high-end smartphone every other month. Granted, the G7 ThinQ will be launching in the United States in a somewhat timely manner (relative to when it was announced) with most carriers planning to start sales next month, yet the V30S ThinQ is still largely unavailable throughout the country and AT&T will be missing out on the G7 ThinQ entirely in favor of another exclusive offering – most likely the V35 ThinQ, which itself is expected to launch only a few months before the V40 flagship. Unless LG’s goal is to confuse consumers, it’s hard to understand what exactly the company thinks it will gain from such a chaotic release strategy. While one could argue constant product launches are helping the tech giant keep its most premium offerings in the headlines and maintain consumer interest in the brand, it could also be argued they are just desperate attempts at bombarding the market with extremely similar devices to seeing what, if anything, sticks. For a company that’s been in the Android smartphone business for almost a decade now, that approach seems too optimistic at best, and clueless at worst. LG’s mobile unit lost over $650 million in 2017 and continued to bleed money in the first quarter of this year, so if consumers aren’t showing much interest in its devices, it’s unclear how releasing more extremely similar products is meant to help remedy the situation, especially given how doing so will make marketing its offerings even more difficult and expensive.
Outside of the niche demographic that’s actively following smartphone news on a daily basis, consumers interested in purchasing a premium LG device this year will likely be at a loss when it comes to figuring out what exactly is the best option for them, and even when they reach a decision there is no guarantee they’ll actually be able to purchase their first choice given how the company now appears to be going down the convoluted road of carrier and regional exclusivity. While LG appears to have learned its lesson about region-specific features with the G6 fiasco, the wider picture still doesn’t imply it has any idea what it’s doing at the device-level in the mobile industry. Case in point – the ThinQ name that while not new has been revived and attached to every new LG flagship as some sort of an attempt to capitalize on the AI hype. One could argue such reactionary moves are precisely the reason why LG’s mobile unit has been declining for years now, whereas other companies are seen to be setting trends like Samsung, or at least able to adapt to industry trends in a timelier manner – something Huawei has been great at doing.
In contrast, while HTC is hardly a role model for other original equipment manufacturers, the struggling Taiwanese firm at least appears to be basing its mobile strategy in reality and is now said to be concentrating its releases in response to declining sales, especially in the high-end segment where there is potential for high profit margins. Given the state of HTC’s mobile division, such a move is arguably the safest bet it can currently make while remaining in the smartphone market. LG, on the other hand, is giving the impression of being more clueless about what it wants to do with its Android flagships as it is now investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a chaotic product strategy that even startups would be criticized for, let alone maturing technology conglomerates. As was the case in recent years, that approach most likely won’t amount to anything good, so expect to see LG waste yet another year on the market, then tout its 2018 mobile performance has improved due to its aggressive cost-cutting which have led to lowered losses — masking even more harshly declining sales.