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What matters in the fall smartphone lineup: brand, display size, battery life, LTE

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 25, 2014
What doesnt matter: color

Given that at least five top-flight smartphones will be launched in September, would-be buyers will have plenty to ponder.

Stick with the tried and true brand, like the anticipated iPhone 6? Go for a bigger display? Find a model that supports LTE-Advanced over LTE?

Smartphone makers spend millions of dollars on surveys and studies to anticipate what buyers want in a new device. Price and value always matter, but In the U.S., most high-end smartphones still cost $200 on a two-year contract or about $650 unlocked, with various installment plans available. That means cost in the high-end category is not always the big driver of customer choice. Elsewhere in the world, however, low-cost smartphones are in great demand, which may eventually affect prices for even high-quality smartphones in the U.S.

Computerworld asked four smartphone analysts to predict what design and features will matter the most to U.S. buyers of high-end smartphones this fall. There was general agreement that brand matters greatly, followed by the size of the display and resolution, body design, processor speed and battery life.

One survey of 20,000 potential U.S. customers by Kantar WorldWide in early 2014 found 4G/LTE capability was the biggest issue of importance to customers, followed by screen size. Acccording to some reports, the next iPhone, (probably called the iPhone 6) could be announced by Apple on Sept. 9 with a chip to support one version of LTE-Advanced. That chip could support theoretical download speeds of 150Mbps, more than triple today's theoretical download speed on ordinary U.S. LTE networks of 40Mbps. (Average speeds are much slower, in the 10Mbps range.)

One version of the Samsung Galaxy S5 offers LTE-Advanced connectivity, an important feature for some buyers.

One LTE-Advanced version of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is now available, but analysts said it hardly matters in the U.S., because carrier networks aren't expected to support LTE-Advanced for two years or more.

What's in a (brand) name?
It's fairly easy to see why a returning smartphone buyer would stick with the same brand, or at least the same OS: easy access to the same apps.

Apple and even Samsung buyers are loyal. "It takes something revolutionary that other phones don't have to get people to switch, like Siri when it was new," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. Nokia has been known for having the best cameras in the smartphone market, but that hasn't been enough to overcome the lack of interest in the Windows Phone platform, he said.

"Folks who buy high-end anything are typically status driven [and] start with things like a brand consistent with an elite image," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group.


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