Tech in 2020: Android phones chase masses, lose high-end to Apple
Android vs Apple – a battle that continued and probably, got a new direction in the last 12 months, even as we were hit by a pandemic and priorities were shifting every week. And, I say a new direction because the competition has never been closer. For long Apple has focused on the premium and luxury segments, leaving the rest for the Android makers. This year, it wasn’t in a mood to hold back and wanted to have the full buffet. The Android makers also helped.
Android makers focused on value
Most Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi, Realme and Vivo had done really well in the Indian market in the last few years. They disrupted different price segments in their own way. Yet, none of them have come close to even challenge Apple, let aside beating it. These brands have built their empire on value for money game. And in 2020, they continued to chase the value segment. In some cases, they even curtailed their ambitions in the premium end of the market.
Take the example of Xiaomi. In the last two years, it has faced backlash from smartphone users for the pricing of Redmi K20 Pro and Mi 10T. The latter launched this year close to the Rs 50,000 mark and was criticised by users for the high price, despite being a really good phone. In Xiaomi’s defence, both of these remain to be pretty impressive devices in their respective segments.
Yet, the criticism forced it to pull back with the Mi 10T Pro, priced at under Rs 40,000. The others also didn’t cross the Rs 50,000 barrier. Oppo and Motorola tried that with the Find X and Edge Plus, respectively but only to a mixed response.
Those who pulled back
One company here went under a sort of complete makeover. This is Samsung. While Samsung launched top-end phones like the Galaxy S20, Note 20 and the Fold 2, when faced with strong headwinds it decided to concentrate its energy on the mainstream segment with A and M series phones. So much so, that in the middle of the year it even launched a cut-down version of the Galaxy S20 in the form of the Galaxy S20 FE.
The others pulled back further. Out of all, Google disappointed the most, almost giving up on the Indian market. If the decision to not launch the Pixel 4 series was a disappointment, the one to pull back the Pixel 5 line up was a real heartbreak for as they call ‘Team Pixel’. Eventually, we got the Pixel 4a which somewhat made us forget the wounds but wasn’t even competing with the iPhone SE.
OnePlus, which has probably grown the most in terms of brand perception and can dare to launch expensive smartphones, also sat back. After launching the OnePlus 8 Pro, it decided – at least for the year 2020 – against the OnePlus 8T Pro. Instead, it came out with the OnePlus 8T, using the same processor as the OnePlus 8 series and even priced it at less than OnePlus 8.
At this point, most believed that probably in an economically challenging year, consumers might actually not be willing to spend on premium smartphones.
Walks in Apple: more the merrier
Surprisingly, in a year when Android phone companies decided to scale down their ambitions in the premium segment, Apple pushed up. When the iPhone 12 launched, the iPhone 12 mini was the cheapest option in the segment at a price of Rs 69,900. The iPhone 12, which succeeded the iPhone 11, debuted at a higher price of Rs 79,900, although its hardware and features also got an upgrade to make it a more premium phone compared to the iPhone 11.
Apart from the Mini model, Apple priced all of its new iPhones above that mark. With little competition, it was only about time that the tech giant had the biggest piece of the cake, including the cherry on top.
Unlike Android premium phones that did not seemingly find favour in a pandemic year, the iPhone 12 series despite its high prices is doing more than good enough. As you read this, the iPhone 12 has already become the world’s best-selling 5G smartphone for the month of October. According to Counterpoint, Apple also grabs the second spot with the iPhone 12 Pro while the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra sits on the third spot.
The year has been overwhelmingly good for the Cupertino-based tech giant that enjoyed success even with its older models. Price cuts and sale listings made the iPhone 11, iPhone SE (2020) and others highly popular among smartphone buyers.
A September report by Omida suggested that Apple had five iPhones in the top 10 best-sold phones in the first half of 2020. Apple’s iPhone 11 was the world’s best-selling phone H1 2020, and no other smartphone even comes close. Apple sold 37.7 million iPhone 11s in the first half of 2020.
iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone XR, iPhone SE and iPhone 11 Pro all made it to the list as well.
Interesting battle ahead
The competition will continue even in 2021. The problem, as 2020 shows, is that Android phone companies are facing some muddy vision. They can’t seemingly figure out where they need to go from here. Xiaomi is launching phones after phones, but all named “this 9” or “that 9”. So many of its phones look similar. The same is the case for Motorola, which is churning out “G this” and “G that” phones. OnePlus is trying to figure out should it go up with some Pro phones or should it go down with Nord devices. Oppo, Vivo and the likes are confused between specs and functionality.
Google, meanwhile, is all at sea when it comes to India. The Pixel 4A was received well, but Google doesn’t have a halo product and we don’t know when it will have one. Samsung too seems to be stuck with the A and M series in India, although the S21 phones should arrive soon. But from everything that has leaked so far about the S21 series, these phones barely seem any different from the S20. In other words, same feature set, similar hardware, even the talk of pulling back on some variants and only pushing forward with the S21 Ultra.
So, what does it say about the phones of 2021? Chances are we are going to see a repeat of the 2020. The Android phone companies will continue their race to the bottom, while bringing at the high-end phones that will look paper tigers or specs monsters. The only exception could be OnePlus and Google, particularly Google if it finally decides to make a truly high-end phone to compete with something like iPhone 13. Talking of the iPhone 13, in 2021 it is possible that Apple will continue its march upwards, in terms of price and positioning as well as feature set. If it does, it will end up taking another bite from the market share of Android phones in the premium segment.