Increasingly, the Smartphone Market is Just Apple vs Samsung

Samsung’s marketing and eye-catching hardware has given the company a huge lead in the market, but it’s not good for anyone but Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy S8

The Samsung Galaxy S8

I know what you’re here for, some unsolicited Android phone buying advice, right? Well, if I had to buy an Android smartphone to use as my daily driver right now, it would probably be an HTC U11. If I could buy the HTC U11+ in the U.S., it would be the obvious choice. But that’s not what I’d actually recommend someone looking for an Android phone right now should do. In fact, my biggest piece of advice is to either wait or, if you can’t, buy a Google Pixel 2 XL.

My Unsolicited Android Buying Advice:

  1. The HTC U12 announcement is likely going to happen in March. Wait for it.
  2. If you can’t wait for it, the HTC U11 is a great choice.
  3. Not into HTC? The Google Pixel 2 XL is the choice for you. Made by HTC, with their fantastic camera hardware and Google’s intelligent software, it’s the best “pure Android” phone you can buy. Although its squeeze gesture isĀ far more limited than HTC’s.
  4. Want a phone that’s not as boring as Google’s Pixel 2? The Essential phone is a great choice, and its price and cool 360 camera can’t be beat.
  5. Do. Not. Buy. A. Samsung. Phone. Ever.

The first four items, I’m flexible on. Think the LG V30 is more your speed? Grab it! Like Motorola (Lenovo)’s Moto mods and near-stock Android experience? Pick up the Moto Z2 Force! But whatever you do, don’t buy a Samsung phone.

The HTC U11 in four colors, Sapphire Blue, Amazing Silver, Brilliant Black, and Solar Red

If anyone wants to buy the Solar Red one for me, I’d really appreciate it, thanks!

I felt like I had to start this article like that. Why? Because many people in the United States wouldn’t get what I’m going to say here. They think SamsungĀ is Android. The smartphone market has devolved into a Samsung vs Apple affair. Over the past few years, market share for every other Android manufacturer has plummeted. As a result, the market has become stale.

As an Android developer, a technology fan, and an Apple fan, I can tell you that the only winner here is Samsung, and even that is a temporary and hollow victory. With an Apple vs Samsung duopoly in the United States, everyone loses.

What Does the Market Look Like?

Chart showing US smartphone vendor distribution from 2013 to now

Apple and Samsung have gained, with small gains for LG and losses for every other vendor.

I needed a new test device at work. We looked at our own internal market share numbers, and the solution was obvious: buy a new Samsung phone. A new Samsung phone would be relevant for years, because our own market trends reflected national trends: Samsung market share wasn’t going to stop growing. The latest report states that, between Apple and Samsung, 75% of the U.S. smartphone market is covered. That leaves just 25% for the competition, HTC, LG, Motorola, Essential, and others. That’s only going to get worse. With fewer sales, other smartphone vendors simply won’t have the cash on hand to compete. Innovation at the top, from Apple and Samsung, can stall, thanks to brand loyalty, and smartphone progress can become stagnant.

Sound familiar? Neither Samsung nor Apple has pushed their operating systems ahead. iOS 11 is unstable and uninspired, and while technologically progressive, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are still boring. Even Samsung has begun to lay off the gimmicks that got them to where they are. TouchWiz, still bloated by the “throw everything at it and see what sticks” approach to software design, hasn’t improved in years. Thanks to their secure positions, Apple and Samsung have been slacking off. Meanwhile, we’ve seen amazing developments from LG, with modular smartphones and incredible hardware, HTC with new methods of interaction and the best cameras on the market, and Motorola, with their Moto Mods smartphone accessories. These innovations should be challenging others to do better, but because of their diminutive market share, they’re not.

How Did it Get This Way?

Nobody outspends Samsung on marketing.

HTC has been churning out the nicest phones on the market, but has been strapped for cash. Without marketing, HTC’s beautiful devices aren’t flying off the shelves. Samsung, on the other hand, makes some pretty good hardware, but backs it up with the worst customized version of Android on the market, TouchWiz.TouchWiz is bloated due to Samsung’s marketing initiative involving selling gimmicks as “innovations.” The bloat made TouchWiz inefficient, and made Samsung devices sluggish.

Samsung markets to iOS users, not current Android users. iOS users might not know that there are better versions of Android. They might not realize Samsung’s customizations are only to alienate it from stock Android, so you stick with them. I own and regularly use a Samsung Galaxy S8. I actually prefer the OS on my older, slower Moto G4. In fact, my Moto G4 was my first Android phone that convinced me that Android wasn’t such a bad operating system. I was like many of iOS users who used a Samsung device: I thought that was as good as Android gets. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Where does Samsung’s marketing budget go? It’s not all for TV and internet ads. They pay a large sum to carriers to put Samsung devices front and center in their stores. They pay salespeople bonuses for pushing customers towards their phones. Often, less technically savvy customers ask the store employees for advice. Salespeople will push customers towards the cellphone manufacturer who’s paying them the most to make a sale, not the best choice. Because brand loyalty among smartphone owners is high, Samsung knows you’ll likely be stuck with them Therefore, Samsung doesn’t have to spend a lot of money innovating, they just have to sell you a single phone.

But I Love Samsung!

Google Play screenshot showing Bixby button remapper apps

The Google Play Store is full of apps to eliminate Samsung features, not duplicate them.

Do you? Do you really? Sure, the S8 has a big, beautiful (over-saturated) screen. And yes, the S8 has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market (though it’s beaten by its primary competition from Apple, HTC, and Google). But TouchWiz slows down over time, doesn’t introduce features that are unique or… well, good. Bixby is an atrocity, and, the Bixby button is often remapped by users with third party apps to do anything else. No Samsung customization is popular or frequently used. Samsung cheats in benchmarks, overclocking hardware when a benchmark is detected, but in real world use, feels laggy, slower than other Android competition.

Samsung doesn’t have to improve either, thanks to a steadily growing market share. Android users, really think about your next smartphone. Don’t just upgrade to the latest Samsung device. Research the competition. Look into their features, their improved cameras and speed. Go check them out in person, and tell the salespeople to walk away. Ask yourself, do you use Bixby or any of the other Samsung-specific software features, or have you just convinced yourself that they’re important? Chances are, you’ll buy an excellent smartphone from Google, HTC, LG, Motorola, or Essential. They have the same processors, the same performance, but without the software bloat holding that hardware back, and with new features you’ll actually use.

Uh… Why Are You Selling us on Android Phones?

In a capitalistic market, competition is innovation. Internet speeds in the U.S. pale in comparison to speeds around the globe, but due to a lack of competition and lobbying, no improvement has been forced on these internet service providers. The same stagnation would happen in the smartphone market without competition. Apple’s not afraid you might switch to an Android device. Therefore, they’re less likely to quickly innovate with new features like a large screen, facial scanning, or even customization options (please, default apps, Apple, please). Apple took an eternity to catch up to Android in these areas. Samsung will continue to churn out uninspired devices as well, and technology won’t be pushed forward. I don’t really care if you choose iOS or Android, but I do hope you’ll try something new, and, as a result, help push technology forward, not hold it back.


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