MWC 2018: The Perpetual Déjà Vu of Flagship Smartphones
Brad Akyuz, Director ;
Consumer Electronics Connected Intelligence
Apart from 2017 when the Note 7’s battery issues forced the company to run excessive quality checks and delay the debut of the Galaxy S8, Samsung always commands attention at Mobile World Congress, and this year was no exception.
The new Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ models boast impressive upgrades to their predecessors, though almost all of these advances are under the hood, as Samsung did not make any radical changes to the form factor. Some of the noteworthy interior upgrades include a much faster processor (Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845), impressive camera hardware, and software updates, such as dual aperture lenses and super slow-motion video capturing mode at 960 frames per second.
But none of these advancements created as much buzz on the show floor as the animated self-emoji feature, which allows users to create their own emojis via the AR-powered app using the front facing camera. This was probably the most exciting feature of the new S9 models, as attendees were desperately trying to get their hands on a test device to create their self-emojis. I should mention that I was no exception…
Samsung’s animated self-emoji feature is a great example of how OEMs are utilizing their enhanced camera hardware with AR/AI algorithms on top to enhance user experiences. Most flagship models debuted at MWC 2018 offered foretastes of these capabilities in various formats, such as the LG V30s’ Vision AI feature that scans and recognizes objects in the surrounding area and adjusts shooting parameters accordingly, or ZTE Zenfone 5’s AI-powered scene detection technology that configures the camera settings for optimum picture quality. These AR/AI enhancements undoubtedly provide a richer user experience, but they hardly offer any differentiation for consumers to select one OEM over the other.
Browsing through OEM booths at MWC eventually begins to feel like a perpetual déjà vu. You hold many 5.8-6.0 inch no-bezel flagship smartphones running on Android Oreo and Snapdragon 845, boasting a dual-lens camera powered by AR/AI, resulting in high competition for smartphone consumers in this space. While Apple experiences an upgrade conversion rate of over 90 percent, meaning nine out of 10 iPhone users buy another iPhone when it’s time upgrade, that’s not the case for Android-based OEMs, according to the NPD Connected Intelligence Mobile Connectivity report (1H 2017). In the same timeframe Samsung enjoyed a 56 percent upgrade conversion rate, which is quite high compared to other Android OEMs. With soft touches such as animated emojis in combination with aggressive trade-up campaigns, this figure is poised to go up in the upcoming months.
As expected, the new Galaxy S9 models were heavily discounted by U.S. carriers right off the bat. All major carriers alongside their prepaid arms (such as AT&T’s Cricket and T-Mobile’s MetroPCS) launched various buy-one-get-one and trade-in campaigns to entice upgraders. It’s refreshing to see carriers charging full throttle with the S9 campaigns at launch, as while the predecessor Galaxy S8 variants were also heavily promoted at launch, the rigid eligibility requirements adversely impacted volumes during the first couple months of availability. It wasn’t until late Q2/early Q3 2017 that carriers loosened the requirements and enjoyed high volumes.
Of the top four nationwide carriers, T-Mobile offers the most competitive pricing on the S9 models. This is a brilliant move on T-Mobile’s part, as the Galaxy S9 franchise is the perfect remedy to the carrier’s network-related deficiencies. The Galaxy S9 supports T-Mobile’s 600 MHz low-band frequency network that provides extended coverage in rural areas as well as superior indoor coverage. NPD’s Connected Intelligence findings reveal that T-Mobile over-indexes in satisfaction levels for almost all tracked attributes (service value, pricing, hidden fees), except network related areas (network coverage, dropped calls, network speed). A wide adoption of the S9 models among existing and new T-Mobile customers should help the carrier immensely in boosting its network image and perception. T-Mobile’s desire in pushing the S9 is also tremendously important for Samsung, which trails behind Apple in volume share at every carrier except T-Mobile. Apple enjoys 50 percent or more market share at the other three carriers, and its market share at T-Mobile has also been on the rise (up from 26 percent at yearend 2016 to 40 percent at yearend 2017). The heavy promotional push on the S9 variants by all carriers, coupled with Apple’s steep price tag on the iPhone X, will create the ideal landscape for Samsung to strengthen its foothold in the U.S. market.
Source: NPD Connected Intelligence Mobile Connectivity Report