Cell phones suck; the MWC 2022 is the best proof of this

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The world of mobile telephony, which for years has been the main showcase for innovations in the world of technology, turned into an asshole. It sounds harsh, but it is the reality. And, after spending a few days wandering around MWC 2022, that impression has only grown stronger.

As always, there are exceptions. Products that for one reason or another grab attention, have an interesting story behind them, or bring something new to the table. But I insist: we are talking about specific exceptions.

The essential cellphones brands are announcing — not just at events like MWC 2022, but throughout the year — they are super similar, they lack magic and barely arouse interest. Especially in the lower ranges, which is the segment that, by the way, moves the most units in southern European countries.

Galaxy S22

Few brands, same suppliers

The world of telephony is dominated by four companies: Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi and brands derived from the BBK group (Oppo, Vivo, Realme, OnePlus, etc.). A limited number given the size of the market we are talking about. And, as usual, when the number of companies leading or controlling an industry decreases, so too do the disruptive ideas – as happens with oligopolies or monopolies.

All these companies too they have common suppliers: Qualcomm, MediaTek, TSMC, Samsung Display, BOE, etc. And if all brands have access to the same components to manufacture their products, the ability to differentiate is again limited.

At this point, it is important to qualify, yes, that Samsung has more capacity to differentiate than the rest of the brands mentionedbecause many of the components they put into their products – mostly the ones we see at the high end – are designed or manufactured in house –like Exynos processors or AMOLED screens–.

Something similar can be said about Apple. The American company controls certain key components, such as the in-house designed iPhone processor. But its ability to differentiate does not stop there. Both its product strategy and the sales volumes it manages place the company in an ideal position to compel its suppliers to develop components ad hocwhile other brands are limited to choosing from whatever the supplier has in their catalog.

Realme GT 2 Pro

Economy of scale kills differentiation

On the other hand, the economy of scale is a fundamental element in the strategy of all these companies. So many products share some components – as seen in the iPhone 13 or Galaxy S22, which have the same processor. But the trick is not there: some brands that operate under the same umbrella often launch exactly the same products that simply differ slightly in their aesthetics or in their marketing strategy – see the Poco X4 Pro / Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G couples that we we saw at MWC 2022 or the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G / Oppo Find X5 Lite–.

This This is not an exclusive practice of the world of telephony. The Volkswagen group, for example, is a classic example in this regard. The vehicles of their brands share many components. And the objective of this strategy is none other than cost reduction through the use of common production chains and the possibility of large-scale negotiations with suppliers (obtaining discounts on the unit price in exchange for the purchase of large sums).

In the case of brands whose main activity is in the middle or low end, where price is a key factor in harvesting sales, this cost optimization has a particular weight. Thus, we see them launching products with identical specifications but with slight variations in certain aspects – such as design – or focused on different sales channels.

This does not mean that Apple, whose mobiles exceed 500 euros, is not reluctant to optimize the costs of its products as much as possible – in fact, that matters a lot; but, in a 1,000 euro product, increasing the price by 50 euro hardly affects the purchase decision; In a product of 200, the rise of the same 250 can be decisive.

without fear of copying

It’s recurring see at shows such as MWC 2022 products that blatantly draw inspiration from the ideas of the competition. We have seen this, for example, with the notch in 2017 and 2018. All the mobiles, suddenly, had it; and the origin was in the iPhone X. The only one that preferred to stay away completely was Samsung, which opted for punch-hole displays as an alternative.

Exist a comfort with the copying of ideas which, perhaps, years ago did not exist. Or at least not so explicitly. The result, of course, is that we have fewer and fewer products with their own or original identity.

Market maturity weighs

To all that you have to add the maturity of the market. The revolution of smartphoneRemember, it started 15 years ago with the arrival of the first iPhone. And during this period, patterns were established that would currently be difficult to break out of. Not only because it involves thinking out of frame, also because consumers have become accustomed to these molds. Getting them out of there with new formulas is risky.

Businesses too fed over time, learning from each other and even converging on common ground in many ways. The best proof? How iOS and Android have fed each other all this time.

This maturity translates, in practice, into minor changes between product generations. Gone are the years when the arrival of software updates was long awaited because they brought many new features or changes that profoundly transformed the way we use the telephone on a daily basis.

Leaks leave little room for doubt

In the particular case of presentations, another factor must also be added: the leaksthose. When it comes to a presentation event like MWC 2022, chances are the bulk of the proceeds were leaked days or even months ago. And, in recent years, these leaks they are increasingly accurate, especially in the case of brands like Samsung.

Many brands too have taken the strange habit of advertising their mobile phones in booklets. One day they publish the name; another a picture of the back; and so on until the official presentation, when the complete puzzle is presented. Makes sense: extending brand coverage. But it also has a negative effect: the magic around your cast ends up being practically nil.

Photo: David Ortiz.

The puzzle that subtracts interest from an industry and therefore from MWC 2022

If we add the few brands that control the market, that they all have common suppliers, that the economy of scale pushes the brands to constantly recycle components and ideas, that leaks or communication strategies eternal dematerialize presentation events and that the market is so mature that most innovations are incremental rather than disruptive, you end up with a fair like MWC 2022 without shisha or lemonade. And it’s a conclusion that can also be applied to the whole news cycle around cell phones.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the text, there are products that come out of this trend. But they are by no means the majority. What is an unqualified conclusion is that the smartphone It has long since ceased to be the flagship of the technology industry. They will continue to exist, because they are essential tools. But without a doubt, they are no longer the source of interest that they were. And this MWC 2022, one of the most decaffeinated in recent years, is proof of that.


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