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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

Some reports have suggested Apple could include 1GB of RAM in the A8 chip, the same amount as in the A6 processor in the iPhone 5. RAM constantly consumes power, and having less memory should improve battery life.

Gold said that if buyers simply look at processor size and speed in a purchase, they could be misled. What usually matters more is how well a phone performs, something not always processor-dependent since it involves many factors such as the software, apps and the browser. That overall performance quality is hard to assess from looking at a spec sheet before making a purchase.

"Do you need a faster processor when most of what you do is browsing?" Dulaney asked. Better yet, how important can a faster processor be if you mostly text or read emails on a phone?

Other factors that don't — or shouldn't — matter
Kantar's survey found that the color of the phone was the least important design feature considered, behind overall attractiveness, quality of materials and screen size.

The iPhone 5C's colors didn't give the device a big boost in sales.

In 2013, the gold iPhone 5S got a lot of press, while an array of iPhone 5C colors emerged. And Nokia's Lumia family includes some of the brightest colors available. "Despite the recent focus on color, consumers do not seem to put a high priority on that feature," Milanesi said in the Kantar survey. "You would think that color would help differentiate, [but] it is clear from the survey results that color is not a deciding factor."

The colorful smartphone fad might be seen as a way to differentiate a model from what Milanesi calls a "sea of black rectangular devices" — even if color is ineffectual.

Dulaney added, "The days of innovating on smartphone form factor are over; they are all black rectangles. To that end, innovation moves to the semiconductor technology and screens and software."

Enderle said an unusual color can work to attract a customer — as long as it gives a particular phone that elusive, "exclusive" quality.

Along with doubts about the value of color, Dulaney questioned why today's smartphone makers put so much emphasis on what software ships natively in the device or can be loaded from an app store. "In software, we may be entering the silly era where all this wizbang software is interesting for the high-end buyer, even though few use the features long term," he said. "There are so many things running on phones these days that the user never learns to use them."

Ultimately, many U.S. buyers will notice that there are features on smartphones that they don't need, like 128GB of storage when everything can be stored in the cloud, he said. In the future, such excessive features "won't hurt, and some people will buy, but the masses will move down the price curve toward the medium and lower-priced phones."


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