IFA is often considered to be the Consumer Electronics Show of Europe, where global consumer electronics vendors showcase the commercialized products they previewed at CES back in January. Held every September in Berlin, the show hasn’t historically received much attention from the mobile world, but that’s been changing as smartphone vendors shift their focus from overly mature markets like the U.S. to EMEA markets where there are still growth opportunities (as Apple and Samsung’s hegemony in the U.S. market loses steam on the other side of the Atlantic).
Here is a quick look at the major mobile highlights from IFA 2019:
TCL, a key mobile device manufacturer is little known as a mobile brand due to its original design manufacturer (ODM) model operating under the Alcatel, BlackBerry and Palm brands. However, the company has been enjoying success in its TV business, with U.S. unit shipments surpassing industry leaders. The growing awareness of its TCL brand has finally pushed the OEM to make a bold move and release its first self-branded smartphone, the TCL Plex. However, the device’s key features may not provide unique enough features to differentiate it from the competition. The Plex doubles as a remote control for TCL TVs, though with voice-controlled TV applications growing in adoption, a smartphone doubling as a remote may not be that appealing for tech customers. Second, the Plex also boasts a TCL-made screen with advanced image processing capabilities, but such techy features typically fail in attracting customers looking for an affordable mid-range device. The Plex is competitively priced at 329 Euros ($363), and if/when it makes its way to the U.S. market, TCL’s strong retailer and carrier distribution should help the device enjoy shelf space immediately.
Samsung, has long been using IFA as a major launch platform for its latest smartwatch and tablet products. This year was different as the OEM introduced its third 5G-powered device, the Galaxy A90 5G, which joins the Galaxy S10 5G and Note 10+ 5G. The Galaxy A90 5G will likely be a top seller 5G device in the markets it debuts in due to its relatively competitive price point with respect to other 5G devices in the market. The A90 5G will carry a 749 Euro ($828) price tag in the European markets; once it comes to the U.S., we will likely see U.S. operators pushing this phone at around $799 before incentives. It’s noteworthy to mention that despite boasting 5G support, the A90 5G is still a mid-range device; consumer who are not interested in the phone’s 5G feature, can possibly get similar functionality from rival brands with a 30% to 40% discount depending on the brand they choose.
The bigger story from Samsung was the re-debut of the Galaxy Fold, which was previously recalled due to screen malfunctions seen on tester units distributed to media. The OEM postponed the commercial debut of the much-awaited device, and ended up reimbursing the early adopters in the U.S. who pre-ordered the Galaxy Fold. At IFA, Samsung showcased the fixed Galaxy Fold, which features a reinforced screen with plastic endcaps added to the hinges. This solved for gaps that existed in the initial version, which allowed dust and particles to enter between the display and screen. Samsung has also placed the protective screen layer underneath the frame to ensure that users would not try to peel it off as they did with the earlier version. The device felt much sturdier compared to the original version during our hands-on time with it at the show. Samsung also announced that those customers who previously pre-ordered the Fold from Samsung will be offered a $250 gift card that can be used for any purchase made through Samsung channels. The phone is now commercially launched in South Korea, and the U.S. availability is expected to be in the coming weeks.
LG typically does not announce mobile products at IFA, but this year was an exception. The OEM launched an update to its latest G8 flagship, and called it the G8X. In essence, the G8X is essentially the same as the initial G8 except support for a dual-screen case, which turns the phone into a “foldable” device like the V50 model launched earlier in February. LG’s flagship innovation like the modular G4 or the curved G5 or the touch-less control G8 are simply not resonating with consumers, and the OEM’s declining market share, particularly in the U.S. postpaid market tells it all. The new G8X and its dual screen add-on display is just another design statement that will not help LG remedy its struggling handset business.
Sony’s mobile business has been in the decline for the past several years as its innovative features around display, such as native 4K support or 21:9 ratio, are not considered as critically important by consumers. At IFA, Sony launched an upgrade to its flagship Xperia 1 model, and has decided to call it the Xperia 5. Skipping from 1 to 5 with the branding was probably the only noteworthy aspect of this debut as the new Xperia 5 is a simply a more compact version of the Xperia 1 launched earlier this year. The launch will have little to no impact in the U.S. market as Sony has been out of the carrier lineups for a while, and it has been heavily challenged by brands like Motorola in the unlocked space.