We are not far away from the point where high-end smartphones start at Rs 50,000 and above. Where earlier this was unimaginable, the Rs 45,000 is no big barrier to cross anymore and as more and more high-end flagships with ‘better’ hardware hit the market. At some point, the core hardware development will hit terminal velocity with very little headroom for innovation. Even Samsung is moving its focus from smartphone sales to components as it shifts its investment priority. Will this lead to a saturation of the high-end segment, where the potential audience for these phones dwindles or will the growth continue unabated? Let’s throw the discussion open.
The swish set
If you oversimplify a high-end smartphone, then essentially it is a high-resolution screen, the fastest available silicon, and the best possible camera you can squeeze in. At least two of these three aspects have reached a tipping point of sorts.
There’s only so much you can do within the space you have for camera optics, without making the phone look like a ‘franken-phone’. From a pure “megapixel” point of view, 13MP is great, and the picture quality will not progress beyond a point without better optics. Of course, the megapixel counter will keep going up, but as has been said numerous times megapixels aren’t everything.
On the screen front, a full-HD display is outstanding. I mean, so outstanding that I often wonder if most people realize that small displays with such incredible resolution is quite an amazing thing to have. That leaves us with processing power. Admittedly, here there is some headroom available, but even many cheaper smartphones perform reasonably well with a GHz+ processor ticking under the hood.
The key differentiators separating the low-medium-high-end smartphones are almost always these core specs. And as you check-uncheck that filter list in the left hand panel on any e-commerce site, you’ll notice that the gaps are reducing. The mid-range smartphone used to be the high-end smartphone of about a year ago and that’s already getting attacked by faster and better-specced phones at lower prices. And the time-gap may very well come down to 6 months as opposed to a year as it stands now. So yes, phones priced around Rs 40,000 and over will have a tougher time in the market in the future, and they may very well end up being marginalized.
I strongly think it is. High-end smartphones being pumped out by the top brands seem to only be an exercise to see who can make the fastest and most feature-rich smartphone. With Samsung presently leading, and HTC and Sony creeping up its sleeves, it does seem like there is a war to produce the best phone. Consumers are being wooed constantly with better features and promise of a faster performance. But only those already using high-end smartphones are still tempted to upgrade their existing phones with even more powerful units. The question is, are they really getting their money’s worth?
Some who have already invested in the high-end or mid-range handsets feel cheated as the next 'new and improved' phone makes their phone outdated within a matter of months. Manufacturers don’t seem to be interested in what the user wants or needs on his device. And this could lead to inclusion of features that they don’t need and thus an increase in price. With the amount of high-end phones flooding the market, only those who can afford to replace their smartphone every few months will go ahead and do so. Others who used hard-earned savings to buy a phone hoping it would be future-proof feel cheated and this will only make them shy away from the top bracket. In this sense, it is heading towards saturation.
The price band for high-end phones will keep increasing for a simple reason – staying on the cutting edge of technology does not come cheap. The high-end space won't be saturated like the mainstream segment (Rs 15,000 and below) since there's only room for the best and we have only a handful of players in this category. I also think the perception of 'value-for-money' will change over time and will also steadily increase. A Rs 30,000 phone was considered flagship a year ago but today when compared to a Rs 45,000 phone, it will be good value as you'll most likely be getting 90 – 95 per cent of the features. There will always be an audience for premium handsets (look at how well the iPhone is selling despite its 'ridiculous' price) and this will ensure only the best in the business will be successful, thus avoiding clutter.
Have your say below. Will consumers continue buying high-end smartphones if they don't offer anything tangibly better for the higher price?