Apple's rivals should trim smartphone ranges

17 May 2012

Nosing through reports about Apple’s plans to use larger screens on its next iPhone model got me thinking about whether other device vendors are missing a trick by maintaining a huge line of smartphones.

The specific trigger was the opening words in a Wall Street Journal article regarding the US vendor ordering up larger displays from its Asian manufacturers. “Apple, which is expected to launch its next-generation iPhone later this year…” is the sentence in question.

Now, I’m not getting bogged down in speculation over what features the latest iPhone might have, nor when it might launch. Instead, I’m interested in whether Apple is enjoying such stellar success simply because it has one smartphone model. Consider the benefit in terms of research and development. While rivals including Nokia, Samsung, Sony and the like must maintain a vast array of smartphone models, Apple has just one.

That means Apple can pump all of its resources into developing one killer product at a time, instead of trying to maintain a full portfolio of smartphones and spending time (and money) on promoting each one.

It makes you wonder if rival vendors wouldn’t be better off copying that aspect of Apple’s approach rather than trying to produce a range of iPhone clones? If Nokia, for example, sold only the well-received Lumia 900, consumers would know exactly what they’re getting for their money, and would have to consider that device as an alternative to the iPhone.

Marketing would become easier, as vendor’s would be able to build a buzz around the launch of their latest model in the same way Apple generates huge speculation simply by ordering up some components for a device even it hasn’t confirmed is in the pipeline yet. The whole issue of smartphone platforms would also be clarified in the minds of consumers. Where Apple is iOS, Samsung et al represent Android, and Nokia becomes the device of choice for Windows fans.

Focusing on one key model would also allow vendors to again begin competing on hardware, rather than the software and ‘ecosystem’ (a word I still object to for anything other than environmental references) fights that analysts seem to focus on. Consider the benefit to a firm like Samsung, which has well established silicon and display divisions.

Hardware still matters folks – just look at all those reports of what’s going into the next iPhone.

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