In 2015, the smartphone or, more specifically, the Android smartphone market reached tipping point. What you can get for your money now compared to 12 months ago is pretty astounding. It started with the sub $300 Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 in March, and ended with the $100 BLU phone equipped with a full HD screen. With 2016 almost here, we’re right in the thick of a race to the bottom, and the price drops are being driven primarily by Chinese companies.
If 2016 is the going to be the year of anything, it’ll be the year more western consumers will be handing over their hard-earned cash for something designed and made in China. These are the companies to watch:
If I could only choose one company to watch in 2016, it would be impossible not to choose Huawei. The Chinese manufacturer has never had a bigger year than 2015. It overtook Xiaomi as the #1 smartphone maker in China, became the 3rd biggest smartphone seller in the world, and only Samsung shipped more Android phones than Huawei in Europe. And that’s not all.
With the Nexus 6P and Huawei Watch respectively, the company showed it knows how to make a fantastic smartphone and a great smartwatch. In fact, I’d argue that they are the best devices in their respective platforms. With those two devices, and the success of the affordable Honor sub-brand, Huawei is going in to 2016 with a lot of momentum, and will undoubtedly gain even more market share and, more importantly, mind-share.
Once Huawei or Honor brands become as well-known as names like Samsung and Apple, the traditional ‘big’ Android OEMs will be in a lot of trouble. And we have reason to believe that they’re well on their way.
Huawei is bringing its Honor brand to the US, which means Stateside customers will be able to buy all-metal, premium smartphones with great specs at affordable prices.
Perhaps Huawei’s biggest stumbling block is software. While its China-based customers love the custom EMUI software running on top of Android, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone singing its praises in ‘the west’. At best, it’s a restrictive iOS lookalike UI. At worst, it’s finicky and migraine inducing. Thankfully, the Nexus 6P and Huawei Watch are stock Android, meaning with those, Huawei can stick to doing what it does best: Making great-looking devices with great hardware. More of the same in 2016 could see the company cement itself as a dominant Android maker.
With Xiaomi having recently lost its top spot to Huawei in China, and seeing its biggest rival have success internationally, now is the time for the affordable flagship maker to spread its wings. Rumors are that Xiaomi will start selling phones officially in the US from next year. If so, Huawei and its Honor brand will have a fight on its hands.
Xiaomi has long been known for releasing phones with competitive specifications at ludicrously low prices. It also has a bit of a reputation for copying Apple.
Because of brands like Xiaomi, Huawei and OnePlus, Samsung is finding it increasingly difficult to justify the prices of its high-end smartphones. Where a top-of-the-line OnePlus phone costs just $389, Samsung’s high end phones can easily cost north of $650. That’s a big difference for a phone which offers surprisingly little over its flagship-killing competition.
While it’s still the undisputed biggest seller of Android phones globally, Samsung’s shipment numbers are flatlining. Clearly, the manufacturer will look to the newly-announced mid-range Galaxy A series and the upcoming Galaxy S7 (and variants of) to keep itself ahead of the chasing pack.
While I don’t think Samsung will release anything mind-blowingly spectacular this year, I do think the Korean tech giant is still worth watching. Once-giant companies like HTC and LG both really struggled in 2015, and Samsung is next in line to get a scalping, unless it can fight back with competitively priced and specced smartphones. Can it respond to the pressure, or will it see market share slip from its hands?
HTC’s chief will tell you the company is here to stay, but many of us tech enthusiasts are seriously worried about the Taiwanese manufacturer. The HTC One M9 launch was an anti-climax, to put it mildly, and the company’s solution was to launch an overpriced iPhone-clone. If HTC doesn’t pull something out of the bag in 2016, it could be in all kinds of trouble come this time next year. As a long-time Android fan, thinking back to the days of the Nexus One, and the HTC One M7, we know the company is capable of innovation. Let’s just hope it’s not too late.
I have to admit it, I find OnePlus really interesting to watch. Their approach to marketing and logistics is unconventional, and you never really know what they’re going to do next. At the beginning of this year, I’d never have guessed the company would release one of the best, and classiest small smartphones ever to ship with Android. I’d likewise never have imagined we’d see them release an iPhone case. But then, when the company’s co-founder lives out of AirBnB accommodation, and wears the same t-shirts every day, you’re not going to get your usual, big-company approach to market.
Other tech journalists maybe fed up of their antics, but without OnePlus stirring things up, the smartphone industry would be incredibly dull. What’s more, the OnePlus 3 (whenever that comes) could be yet another fantastic smartphone at a competitive price. Let’s just hope they manage to get their inventory/logistics problem sorted so that when it comes time to launch, hopeful customers aren’t left waiting for weeks, or months, before they can get their hands on the smartphone.