How to win the smartphone war

In 2003 I had a Sony Ericson T300 mobile phone.

It looked like This:

The screen on it was so bad you can even see the pixels on the manufacturer’s promo photo above.

However, this phone had something special. The reason I bought it was because it came with a clip-on camera.

The camera itself was half the size of the phone, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I could now take photos on my phone!

The photos it took were, obviously, atrocious.

The phone screen itself was only capable of displaying 256 colours at a resolution of 101 x 80 pixels. A lot for the time, but by today’s standards it is laughable.

Still, even on a good screen, as you can imagine, the photos were horrible.

The reason I am mentioning it is because last week Google announced its Pixel 3 phone. And to prove how good its camera is, it paid for a very clever marketing campaign.

It’s taken a fairly different approach to Apple on this.

A few weeks ago Apple released its latest iPhones – the XR, XS and XS max. To prove how good the cameras are on Apple phones it has been running a campaign you’ve no-doubt seen on a billboard or two.

Apple blows up photos its customers has shot, sticks them on billboards and stamps “Shot on iPhone” underneath.

Source: Elvert Barnes

Google, on the other hand, has paid Conde Nast to shoot covers for seven of its magazines with the new Pixel 3 phone.

If you’re not aware, Conde Nast is one of the biggest magazine brands in the world. It produces Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Wired and The New Yorker, to name a few.

Here’s the photo it used on this month’s Architectural Digest:

That photo was taken on a Pixel 3 phone. And so were the covers of this month’s GQ, W, Glamour, Allure, Conde Nast Traveller and Bon appetite.

If you pass a newsagent today, take a glace. The quality is crazy for something coming out of a mobile phone.

Not only that, but Google has paid the most famous portrait photographer of all time, Annie Leibovitz, to “travel around the country, capturing portraits of inspiring people and places.”

Those photos aren’t out yet, but I imagine Google is hoping to gain a lot of attention from professional photographers and amateurs alike when they are.

So, two very different approaches from two of the biggest tech companies around.

I guess Apple’s approach is more inclusive. It’s saying look what you could do of you bought an iPhone.

Whereas Google taking aim straight at the dedicated camera market. If its phone camera is good enough to grace the covers of the world’s most popular magazines, then it’s probably good enough for you – even if you are a pro.

Which approach will win more customers, it’s hard to say. But there’s a lot riding on the success of the new Pixel and iPhones.

According to data from Gartner, smartphone sales declined in 2017 vs 2016. That’s the first time that’s evet happened.

Gartner says there are two main factors to 2017’s sales drop:

1 A slowing of upgrades from feature phones to smartphones due to a lack of quality “ultra-low-cost” smartphones.

2 existing smartphone owners selecting quality models and keeping them for longer, lengthening the replacement cycle.

The reason Google has gone all-out on its Pixel 3 campaign is because it needs to convince people it’s worth the upgrade. But the problem is, smartphones are already very good.

Even cheap smartphones are hard to fault. The one thing that really separates an expensive smartphone from a cheap one is the camera quality. And both Apple and Google know this.

That’s why over the last year or so manufacturers have put such a huge emphasis on their phones’ camera capabilities.

And I’ll admit, those camera upgrades worked on me.

For years I’ve been happy buying a middle of the road smartphone, but when I saw what my friend’s Pixel 2 could do, I went out and bought one within a week.

It was the first phone I’d seen that could take comparable photos to my “serious” camera gear.

A few of my other friends who also usually buy mid-range phones are all opting for the new flagship models for their camera capabilities. So maybe Google and Apple are on to something here.

Or perhaps I’m just friends with a lot of photographers.

I guess we’ll find out if this camera-heavy approach has worked out when we get the end of year sales and commentary in early next year.

One thing is for sure, phone cameras are now a far cry from my old, pixelated T300.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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