North America’s wine-glass-shaped smartphone market and telecom subsidies are probably the reason why there isn’t a truly “affordable flagship” category, experts weigh in. They say there are few choices, and it all comes down to consumer buying behavior.
Recently, Android Authority published an article arguing that in 2022, the Google Pixel 6 could be “the only true affordable flagship worth your money”. Android Authority’s Robert Triggs writes that a few years back there were many options like the Asus Zenfone 6, OnePlus 7 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro. He noted that these phones prompted Apple and Samsung to launch more affordable options like the $400 iPhone SE and $699 Galaxy S20 FE, both of which offered “extraordinary value for money.”
That being said though, Triggs elaborated that Apple’s phone is “more of a classic mid-ranger than an affordable flagship, and the iPhone SE 2022 model is built into that.”
Anshel Saag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, doesn’t entirely agree that the Pixel 6, one of the best Android phones out there, is the only affordable flagship out there and the Samsung Galaxy S21 in that lineup. FE is included. ,
“If you ask some people, affordable is a very subjective and relative term,” he says.
What is a flagship and what makes a phone a flagship?
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Saag says that the term “flagship” itself is a relative term and doesn’t have any specifically defined features that make a device a flagship, “especially when you see that many OEMs have multiple flagship products, So it makes the word more convoluted because the flagship really needs to be just a halo product.”
Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Worldwide Device Tracker, agrees that as an industry, it is still unclear what the definition of a flagship is and that the definition “may be somewhat changed.”
“I would argue that most non-Pro versions of the latest smartphones would still count as flagships, and many of them tend to be more affordable. The iPhone 13, Xiaomi 12, and other similar phones fall into this category. The issue is this Not all of these are available globally, and in the case of Android phones, the selection is very limited in the US,” he says.
Interestingly, Ubrani said that smartphone companies have cleverly built a tier above flagships where Pro/Ultra models are introduced to help drive up average prices.
For example, this can be seen with Samsung’s Galaxy S lineup, he says.
“It used to be the flagship phone, but Samsung later introduced the Ultra variant, which was a cut above. In some ways, it may seem like the S lineup is being downgraded from flagship status, but the reality is that the Ultra is a level higher than the flagship, ‘Flagship+’ if you wish,” Ubrani says.
He added that the Pixel 6 checks the right box in terms of processing, performance and camera, while other phones in the same price range “have a lot of trade-offs.”
Typically a flagship device has the latest and greatest chipset, memory configuration, AI, latest software technologies, advanced camera setup and performance, state-of-the-art display technologies (high refresh rate, OLED resolution), says Neil Shah, vice president of research at Counterpoint Research. it happens. , etc.), bigger battery, fast charging, head-turning CMF, form-factor design, and IP rating.
With that long list, it’s pretty clear that Android Authority’s Triggs believes the Pixel 6 is an affordable flagship device that people should get.
He writes that while the Pixel 6 doesn’t have it all for $599, “the phone doesn’t mess with gimmicks and tricks, it nails the flagship experience where it counts.”
Why isn’t there a clear “affordable flagship” category in North America?
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Shah says the North American market is like a wine glass, with the largest percentage of smartphones sold at $600 and above wholesale price points, and a very small percentage of phones sold are between $200-600.
“This dichotomy exists due to the earnings distribution of US demographics and how carriers are positioning and selling more premium handsets to drive [Average Revenue Per User] In postpaid and for prepaid it is about getting more cost-conscious demographics to use affordable mid-to-entry-tier phones and plans,” he says.
He says that most of the blame for this heterogeneous market is on Apple and Samsung, which control the overall smartphone market.
it’s all about perspective
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However, the biggest reason we’re not seeing that “affordable flagship” category, Shah says, is the subsidized model of the carriers.
“For example, a Samsung Galaxy Ultra S22 or Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max costs about six cups of Starbucks coffee or two to three lunches per month,” Shah says, adding that from a US consumer perspective, it seems economical given the smartphone. are used daily.
Ubrani also said that telcos also offer “incredible incentives,” along with those financing schemes to make higher-priced phones more “tasty.” Ubrani says this makes it more palatable for the North American consumer, who now also has a bigger budget.
“As long as telecommunications continues to play a bigger role in the smartphone industry, there will not be a need for affordable flagships in any meaningful way,” he says.
When you have a subsidy… not really a need for an “affordable flagship”
(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)
Saag says that with a lot of subsidies on premium handsets, it removes the need for an affordable flagship category.
“I think a feature of ‘affordable flagships’ is markets where users buy their devices outright and where carriers are less involved in selling and financing devices, aka un-subsidized markets. more aware of the price to be paid for devices, they are attracted towards devices that maximize value for the user and do not necessarily include every feature for that matter,” he says. Huh.
Specifically, Saag points out, consumers tend to turn to affordable appliances or premium appliances in the North American market.
“The middle is filled by the most discerning consumer who started out in the budget or premium markets and has decided they want a more Goldilocks style device that strikes a balance of price, performance and features with few compromises,” This, he says, was to add up to the original purpose of the OnePlus and Google Nexus line.
Even though the North American market is much smaller than others in terms of choice, Saag says there are still many devices that can bring great value to consumers. It also doesn’t mean the market is shrinking or shortening, he says.
“I think there is a healthy spectrum of devices in the market in terms of pricing and features, and continued competition among OEMs will continue to drive innovation and value,” he says.