With the announcement today of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, the first broadside has been fired in ‘The Winter Smartphone Battle Of 2014′. Industry commentators, analysts, hackers, power users, and those dancing on the bleeding edge of technology, are already looking at the top of the Fight Card. The Galaxy Alpha is a direct challenger to the (rumors of the) iPhone 6.
I’m not going to play Top Trumps with the two handsets. Partly because Gordon Kelly has already looked at that match here on Forbes, but mostly because I find one of the hardest questions to be asked online is “which phone should I buy?”
It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy and honest answer. There are safe answers, but that’s not necessarily the best answer. If someone pushes me for an answer then it’s going to be an iPhone (if they have a Mac of some description), or a Galaxy S5 (for everyone else). Nobody will ever get into trouble for recommending those handsets.
But those two knee-jerk reactions, while safe, may not be the best option for an individual user. My normal response to the question of “which phone” is to ask the interviewee what exactly they want their smartphone to do. No operating systems, no specific apps (within reason), just the functionality they want. When you have a comprehensive list like that, it’s far easier to choose from the myriad of options available, rather than go for the smartphone with the slightly larger numbers. Numbers alone do not make something ‘the best’.
So I’m happy for the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy Alpha to duke it out on technical merit. I’ll continue to try to work out the best possible answer through the medium of the probing interview on an individual basis. Which handset will let you navigate around a new city with more ease, which handset works better for texting, which is more comfortable to hold as a gaming, and so on.
Given time, I’ll find a phone that suits an individual. Don’t ask me to do a blanket recommendation of one phone to rule them all though. I’ll look to review each of the major handsets with a clinical eye here on Forbes and call it as I see it. As for the summaries, the best I’ll manage is a vague generalisation of a large group of people in a review. Consumers looking for a mid range machine with a lot of features, people looking for ultimate power, people who prefer a fashionable device… that I can do.
Samsung Galaxy Alpha (image: Samsung PR)
Of course manufacturers would rather that there is only an illusion of choice. If you have previously purchased a Samsung smartphone (to take one example), the South Korean company would prefer it if you buy another Samsung device. The same is true of any manufacturer. Creating new sales and reducing the churn of users are all vital business patterns.
If you own the customer through a handset, when the contracts are up it’s going to be easy for them to stay inside the ecosystem that has all their data, rather than starting all over again on another platform. It’s why signing up to a cloud service account for the manufacturer is pushed so heavily. Every one of the leading manufacturers has their own cloud service, gathering your data, selling you applications, and adding value. That value will (so the manufacturers thinking goes) help retain you as a customer when the time comes to upgrade.
Getting that first sale is the key. The first smartphone a consumer uses in anger will almost always ensure they stay with that manufacture for their next phone. That’s where the marketing budgets come in, that’s where anything that can be done to get you signed up will be done. Once you are locked in, it’s far easier to answer the question “which new phone from my current manufacturer will I buy” rather than the more generic and over-arching “which phone?” variant. Once that first sale is made, the second and subsequent sales should be easier.
I’m a features man. I love to look at what the smartphone can do for me, and for you, as a modern-day multi-tool in the digital world. That’s not how most people buy a phone. They look at the phones their friends have. They may well be noting the tsunami adverts and sponsorship deals around the major players in the business. And they will, more than likely, be deciding based on the current phone they have.
As the new handsets roll out for the holiday season in 2014, expect the advertising to focus on the superficial, the sexy, and the inclusiveness. It’s all geared towards new buyers and bringing them to a manufacturer. Once the sale is made, the manufacturers have two years to ensure they get the follow-up sale.
Given time, I could tell you empirically which smartphone is best for you, but the modern smartphone ecosystem is more than that. It’s not about which phone to buy, it’s about which vision you believe in. It’s about which company you trust with your data. And it’s about the company that you want to have a relationship with.
I can’t help with that. Only you can truthfully answer those questions for yourself.