• It Seems that the Commoditization of Smartphones Didn’t Go as Planned



    As this Canadian patiently awaits his Pixel 3 he cannot help but reflect on the other Google phones ordered in years gone by—and, to the point, what he paid for them.

    Here's what my loyalty to Google hardware has cost me over the past five years:

    January, 2013 - Nexus 4 (16 GB) - $359 CAD (+ tax)
    November, 2013 - Nexus 5 (32 GB) - $399
    August, 2015 - Nexus 6 (64 GB) - $649
    January, 2016 - Nexus 6P (64 GB) - $749
    October, 2018 - Pixel 3 (64 GB) - $999

    The one silver lining this year is that my almost-thousand-dollar phone comes with a free charging stand from Google Canada. Woo?

    Even before I started using Android I could already foresee what I thought was the inevitable commoditization of smartphone hardware. Just like the PC market, Moore's Law would see cheaper yet more powerful components with every passing year. And when I first flashed a custom Android ROM I immediately recognized what I saw as the mobile equivalent of a desktop Linux distro. So, yeah, the future of smartphones would be easy... Just pick a phone with an unlockable bootloader and official support for Cyanogen (now Lineage) and you'd be good to go. And if ever Google started being evil you'd still have F-Droid.

    There was just one impediment to this bright, open future: camera APIs.

    Ask a OnePlus enthusiast why they won't go near any custom ROM not based on that brand's native OxygenOS and they'll likely tell you that it's because of those proprietary camera blobs. It's not that OnePlus phones take the best photos; it's just that without those native camera APIs the photo captures would be even worse. Ditto for Samsung—plus whatever hell breaks loose when you trip Knox (which is apparently important). And even on Sony's stock ROM some Xperia devices will go ahead and bork your camera software when an unlocked bootloader is detected.

    On the flip side, Google's Pixel phones rely so much on computational photography that developers at XDA have ported Google's camera app for other devices (with varying degrees of success).

    If you don't care about photos or video on your smartphone—or, conversely, if you care enough about it to carry a standalone camera—then commoditization is pretty much here; just grab any Lineage-supported Motorola or Xiaomi and you should be good to go. Unfortunately for everyone else, whose best available camera is the one with the SIM card in it, it looks like we'll have to ride the wave of ever-increasing prices to get the best possible results.

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    This article was originally published in forum thread: It Seems that the Commoditization of Smartphones Didn’t Go as Planned started by acurrie View original post
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. zapjb's Avatar
      zapjb -
      Beyond my knowledge hence the question. Would Open Camera from F-Droid/Google help?
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      This one, right?

      I don't think so, unfortunately. Beyond basic access to camera functions it wouldn't have the necessary hooks into the proprietary image processing on a vendor's stock ROM.
    1. zapjb's Avatar
      zapjb -
      I guess I don't understand then. It's downloadable also through Google, & Play is usually good about what will work & what won't. Sometimes better than F-Droid itself.
    1. Breaking Good's Avatar
      Breaking Good -
      My US$0.02.

      I don't think your original prediction is wrong, I just think that you aren't looking at it from the PC Market perspective.

      The most expensive iPhone I can find on Apple's Web site right now is the 512 GB XS Max for US$1,449.00. Yet in August I walked into an AT&T Wireless store and purchased a 32 GB iPhone SE for US$50.00. I also had to buy a $30.00 prepaid card, but even with the card the total bill with taxes was around US$95.00.

      While you can claim that these devices provide two vastly different experiences, they both run iOS 12, Apple's latest version of its mobile operating system.

      I remember the days when you couldn't touch a laptop for less than US$2,000. You can still find US$2,000 laptops and they are great machines, but there are a lot more sub-US$600 and even sub-US$300 laptop PC's on the market. And all of these machines will run the latest version of Windows 10. Different experiences for sure, but still the same operating system.

      Acurrie, I feel you are like me where we always want to have the latest and greatest smartphone. However, I submit to you that with every new iteration of smartphone that group is growning smaller and smaller. With each new smartphone release more people are deciding that the smartphone they currently have in their pocket is "good enough" for now and see no reason to upgrade when there are so many other things to spend their hard earned money on. Could be a smartwatch, movie tickets, a new car or beer for all I know. (I surmize the recent decriminalization of cannabis in Canada isn't going to help with this trend.)

      I see two factors affecting prices of smartphones. First, with the economy doing well for a rather long streak now, inflation is beginning to creep in. Smartphone manufactures who held their prices flat for quite a long time due to poor economic conditions are now feeling that they can and need to start raising their prices.

      The second factor has to do with the ever shrinking group I referred to above. The smartphone manufactures (just like PC manufactures) realize that there will always be a group that either needs or just wants the latest and greatest smartphone. So the smartphone manufactures are trying to wring as much as they can out of that group while they can.

      Acurrie - I have a feeling that in five years it will just be you and me paying US$2,000 for the Google Pixel 8 while everyone else is paying US$50.00 for whatever "just works" for them.
    1. mrlemon's Avatar
      mrlemon -
      The fun though is in mid to upper mid range phones.

      Sure, the newest phones have the best processors, but we can see with phones like the Moto G5 Plus or G6 that mid-range processors do the same job at almost the same speed.

      I have always bought phone that where as much as 2 generations old, mostly so I could keep inexpensive plans. I have a friend that bought 2 iPhones for him and his wife and with the upfront outlay of money, plus the iPhone plan cost over 2 years, they spent $2400 (Over 2 years) more then me and my wife with similar plans.

      The Mid-Range phone like the Moto phones are where commoditization is happening. This is the Toyota Corolla of cell phones, with more then enough performance and practicality for just about anyone.

      The Pixel's, Galaxy's and iPhones are the BMW's of the market, and they are not really for everyone.


      TOM....
    1. zapjb's Avatar
      zapjb -
      Market dynamics for non-essentials is a strange bird. This example is the latest but won't be the last. You know the Peloton bike was failing at $1500. Peloton raised the price to $2500 (same bike) & it's a screaming success.

      Same thing is or could easily happen with the iphone x. If apple isn't satisfied with sales. Guess what the entry level 11 will be $1400 instead of $1100. Face it the iphone is more popular than opium in the 19th century.

      Lots of items earn their companies earn more monies by selling less at higher prices.

      Can't keep people safe from themselves. And there's hardly a desire by those that can to do so anymore. So weeeee freedom. Science (Darwinism) is stomping out R******n (Compassion) at a faster rate these days.
    1. brad4cell's Avatar
      brad4cell -
      You can only raise your prices so much until it is too much.

      Apple keeps raising the price on the iphone but their market share keeps falling. Remember what happened to apple before when their market share was low they almost went out of business.

      However, apple new smart watch 4 with health features is actually a smart move because people might pay more if the watch can help make you more healthy or safe.

      As for the camera I can see someone buying a high end phone with a better camera if it was for business. However, for personal use I can live with a not so great camera to save money. I think the cheap phone I have takes OK photos.

      Also I hear that a cheap point and shoot camera will out perform just about any smart phone camera because of the bigger sensor. Of course it is less convenient to carry two devices.
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