Back in the summer of 2012, I had written a blog post entitled Smartphones & The Hunt for Red October – where I spoke about a storm that I thought then was going to emerge in the smartphone industry that would’ve settled then which direction the smartphone industry was heading towards. We were looking at BlackBerry OS 10 launching, Microsoft launching Windows Phone 8, Apple hopefully releasing an iPhone 5 and Samsung / HTC continuing the Android battle for Google.
Sixteen months later, we’ve seen how BlackBerry OS 10 failed to live up to expectations, Nokia felt let down by Microsoft only to be acquired by them, Apple setting new sales records despite analyst predictions and Samsung becoming the defacto standard of what Android is.
This October again though looks like it’ll be a defining period in the smartphone industry. We’ve seen Apple release new iPhones and while these are not yet available officially, we’ve seen Apple play their cards right by releasing a Gold coloured iPhone 5S which we anticipate will be one of the best selling iPhone devices that’s come through our stores. Samsung has also established themselves as a clear leader. They not only have smartphones to fit all budgets but also palm sizes. This is something that no one else can boast today. Nokia has also managed to stay afloat by constantly investing in the in-store experience. They know they’ve got a challenge in trying to make Windows Phone 8′s limited ecosystem a differentiator so they’ve changed gears and focused on excellent build quality or diverting attention to their excellent camera technology.
In the Android space, we’re starting to see other brands try to chip away at Samsung slowly. Sony has got an excellent product in the Xperia Z1 but despite Kaz Hirai’s “One Sony” message, Sony sadly still looks like four companies from the outside and the Sony mobile division has unfortunately not leveraged on the strength of Sony’s regional setup in the UAE. This is ultimately what holds them back. LG is trying to bounce back with the G2, which on the surface of it appears to be an excellent challenger to Samsung’s Galaxy S4 but for the mass consumer, the confidence in LG mobile’s has to be established once again after a few dud releases. This though can happen very quickly as Samsung showed this when they released the original Galaxy S smartphone a few years ago. They built on this goodwill and by the time the S2, S3 and S4 were released, Samsung went from strength to strength. This could be the case with LG. The G2 may not be their game changer but could set the foundation for the G3.
HTC plans to release the One Mini in October. This may be too little too late. HTC has always had excellent products but their own product release delays have eventually meant that the impact of their initial launch is diluted when the products come on our shelves three or four months late. The UAE doesn’t unfortunately get the priority it deserves and this has ultimately been why HTC has under-performed.
The bigger threat though in the long term has to be the Chinese device manufacturers. Huawei and Lenovo have shown they can roll out excellent products such as P6 Ascend and the K900 smartphones. They suffer at the moment from a lack of brand name recognition in the smartphone space but Lenovo should overcome this quickly as consumers get used to seeing the PC manufacturer in the smartphone section of most retailers. Huawei’s challenge is greater in that their brand hasn’t been a consumer name till date and most consumers struggle with how to pronounce the brand name. There is a lot of investment going into the region by both brands that should help them get a better share of the UAE smartphone market. The American media also hasn’t been very kind to Chinese smartphone manufacturers till date so they haven’t had the advantage of PR chatter that the likes of Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Sony or even LG enjoy.
BlackBerry is the brand that stands to lose the most at the moment. Their own launch and crisis management strategy has been woeful where even end consumers have started to take notice. The UAE was typically a two-smartphone per person market where one was by default a BlackBerry device. That looks like it will change very soon with BBM now becoming available on other platforms. We should see the default device become an iPhone instead.
Ultimately though what has to be remembered is that the UAE a unique market. We like flashy devices at flagship prices. We like to own more than one device at a time and we like to swap devices more often. This should thus mean we see most brands record good sales in October, especially with Gitex Shopper and Eid offers that most retailers will have.