What does every company need to do in order to survive and thrive?
It needs to innovate.
And, to innovate means to differentiate their products / services from those of the competition.
For operators and manufacturers, this means different things. However, being able to have apps and “front ends” integrated into the phone, was one of the key methods both of these categories of players sought to use for differentiation.
For an operator, an example of this might have been some VOD application just for their subscribers or something to integrate another service in their portfolio (e.g. TV).
For a manufacturer, this might have meant a slick alternative to the default Android front end. Both of them might have liked to “skin” Android to be unique to them, and some did try to do so to varying degrees of success.
One might think that smartphone manufacturers can differentiate based on hardware features, for example:
- Screen quality (size, resolution, brightness).
- Camera quality (resolution, low-light, etc.).
- Speed (processor+).
- Connectivity (networking, Bluetooth, NFC, and more).
- Capacity (storage, memory).
- Sensors and UX operation (hand waving, gyros, accelerometers, etc.).
- Environmental resistance (water/dust resistance).
- Dimensions (weight, width, screen size).
- Battery life.
While this seems like a long list of features, providing plenty of opportunity to differentiate, it isn’t so. Soon, all manufacturers will be so good, that differentiating on these parameters simply won’t be enough. All devices will be similarly “amazing”. Manufacturers wanted to “own” the device home screen!
Shelly Palmer, in his review of the Samsung Galaxy S-IV put it nicely:
Since everyone who isn’t Apple is using Android, it’s going to be hard for any manufacturer to create a true stand out device. The phone and tablet business feels a lot like the PC business did in the Wintel era – lots of undifferentiated hardware running the same software. But Samsung has the right idea – separate the features of the hardware (which everyone can OEM) and concentrate on the benefits of the software (which can, in some cases, be proprietary)