The 2020 cell phone product cycle

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 10, 2020, 6:42 PM | comments: 0

This has been another weird year for phone product releases, which is to say that it's unsatisfying again. Google doesn't seem to have a single product manager that can make good decisions, Apple is still chasing absurd pricing (mostly), and Samsung is just doing whatever and relying on carrier deals.

First off, I continue to believe that anything more than $600 for a phone you'll use for two years is absurd. That's where I'm at. Without subsidies or credits, I can't see going higher than that.

Apple is still offering anemic storage with insane prices, which surprises me because they're still stagnant in global market share, and Apple's results show little growth for phones. This year they have a $700 "mini" model, which is a step in the right direction, and they're still offering the SE for $400. They're still making amazing hardware, but is it worth spending 2.5x, a grand, on a phone? I doubt it's $600 better. I bought a cheap iPod to mess with for development purposes, and iOS seems to be getting jankier. The settings are a mess, and the widget model they're using is inferior to what's on Android or even the defunct Windows Phone. Don't get me started on how developer hostile they are.

I can't really tear into Samsung, because while I find their flagship phones absurd in pricing, they have so many skus and market-specific models that there's a reason they're only slightly behind Huawei globally. If the distrust in Huawei continues, I imagine they'll be back to number one. If they were better about OS updates, I would seriously consider them, but I'm turned off by the color science and exposure they use on their cameras. They make photos look like the demo mode of TV's at Best Buy, which isn't good.

Google did a summer release of the Pixel 4a, pricing it at $350, and I couldn't believe it. It's not a premium phone in terms of CPU, but it's all the same camera magic they've been shipping in the flagships. If I didn't already have a 4, which is fine except for the face unlock (because masks and Covid), the 4a would be a no-brainer. What makes even less sense is the new 5, which at $700 is not twice the 4a. It's a weird mix of features and compromises that again make for a weird phone and a high price point that doesn't make sense. All they had to do was take a 4a, add the water resistance, and put in a better processor, and bam, they would have a great phone.

If they again offer some big Fi credit and trade, sure, I'll look at upgrading, but I really don't need to. Cell phones seem like a solved problem. If the batteries are working and they're still getting software and security updates, there isn't a lot of incentive to upgrade anymore.


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