It seems that in the world of the smartphone we are reaching a plateau. In the late 90s and early 2000s the trend was to make mobiles smaller and smaller, more recently the trend has been in the other direction, with manufacturers making mobiles as large as they feel you will tolerate, and this trend seems likely to be around for a while. This has lead to a situation where mobiles from different manufacturers are very similar and are quite difficult to tell apart. A consumer is less likely to be concerned about being seen with a Samsung mobile over an HTC mobile compared to being seen wearing Prada or Primark!
For mobile platforms that exist with multiple manufacturers, finding differentiators is key to winning sales, and with similar form factors, the race is currently focusing on technical specifications. Even when it comes down to specifications though, it is hard to draw meaningful differences between many phones.
The next logical step has to be branding, and tie-ins with desirable ones. LG recently launched their latest incarnation of their Prada branded phone. I’ll spare you the details, but physical changes are mainly cosmetic, and the Android software has undergone changes to skin it in a Prada style. We also have seen the launch of a Porsche Design branded BlackBerry, which shows that even with a captured audience, manufacturers are looking for ways to get you to part with more money for what is effectively the same device they already supply.
Big brands carry big values and consumers love them. Ferrari stores do a booming trade in branded merchandise that is sold mainly to people who never have or will own a Ferrari car. These very same people would surely be willing to pay that little bit extra for a nice red Ferrari Android phone – imagine the engine note ringtone! In the case of LG and RIM, these are not simply existing devices with some badges on and some UI tweaks, they’ve spent a lot of money producing these new branded phones. But is this level of effort absolutely necessary?
Alternate cases can be produced very cheaply, you only have to look at the amount of aftermarket cases and covers available for the multitude of mobiles already out there. Tweaking the software may be more of a challenge, but again, it is relatively trivial compared to designing and building a new mobile.
We predict in the years to come you will be able to purchase a mobile phone branded to your favourite designer or manufacturer and that the identity of the manufacturer of the mobile device will be secondary to the dominant brand. This sacrifice could well serve to bring in more dollars to the companies that take that forward leap.
Would you buy a phone that was customised to your favourite brand or are you more interested in purchasing a mobile that has all the features you need at the lowest price? Is the Prada mobile worth the premium over similar devices? Will we ever see a Primark mobile (think “Tesco Value” before saying no)?