Have you noticed that there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement around flagship phones anymore? At least not as much as it used to be in the past. There are several factors at play here. The pandemic has obviously forced a major rethink for people across the globe. Some are still recovering from the havoc that it caused on their finances, forcing them to be a lot more mindful of what they’re spending their money on.
Flagship smartphone sales had already been stagnant prior to the pandemic. The resulting economic mess from it hasn’t really helped sales recover. That has also forced companies to adapt their strategies whereby they’re focusing more on retaining higher margins without raising prices further.
There’s also the fact that the pace of advancement isn’t what it used to be in the past. The updates that we get every year seem incremental at least. Take the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Gen 2 chipsets for example. The performance and efficiency gains are not that noticeable, certainly not enough for the average user to feel any difference. Since they can’t quantify it, they probably can’t justify buying another flagship phone for the latest chipset.
The same goes for camera setups. It’s not just about which camera sensor has the highest megapixels. Flagships like the Galaxy S Ultra series already have 100x zooms and decent wide-angle and ultra-wide sensors. It’s difficult for the vast majority of customers to pinpoint exactly why pictures taken on a Galaxy S23 Ultra are better than the ones taken on the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Then again if you’re taking pictures on auto mode all the time, which is something most users do, and that mostly in the day time when the light is good, the difference isn’t that noticeable. It’s only when you take lowlight images that some of these upgrades stand out but again, it’s not that big of a difference to necessitate a new flagship phone purchase eveyr year.
Unless there’s a significant advancement in battery technology, you can’t expect new flagships to have super chunky 10,000mAh+ batteries without a big change in their thickness. The charging speed race isn’t something that manufacturers out of China trouble themselves with. There’s no third major operating system coming on the market since Android is the only non-iOS option. The display technology is also more or less the same across all of the market participants.
Credit to Samsung for trying to take a different route and pushing foldable smartphones in the market before anyone else. The Galaxy Z Fold is its flagship foldable series with a $1,799 price tag to match. At least it breaks the monotony in the flagship segment by providing a unique form factor and a foldable display that effectively makes the device double as a small tablet.
Since there’s considerable room for improvement in this category, the pace of innovation has also been much more significant with foldables. We’ve seen major redesigns of the Galaxy Z Fold series in recent years. We’ve also seen the addition of S Pen support and water resistant, the latter is also slated to be accompanied by dust resistance in this year’s Galaxy Z Fold 5.
That’s just the foldables, though. The conventional flagship smartphone segment otherwise seems to be a victim of its own success. There was enough depth in the technology before to support radical improvements every single year. Since a confluence of factors has made that difficult now, all manufacturers, including Samsung, simply can’t provide that level of excitement anymore.
The way smartphones are sold, particularly in the west, where a lot of customers are on multi-year upgrade plans and are further incentivized through promotions and trade-in offers will ensure that sales plug along steadily for flagship phones. Will that bring about a return to the period where the frenzy to get the latest flagship every year was visible? I wouldn’t put my money on it.