We are so close to the perfect mainstream mobile…

…yet still so far and there are a few things stopping us from getting there. Yes I am currently trying to buy a ‘Midrange’ Android phone and yes it is pissing me off.

The biggest, well smallest, problem is hardware vendors obsession with less memory for ‘selected markets’ i.e. poorer markets. The 8GB smartphone is no use to anyone rich or poor, when the OS takes up over half that space. Aimed at emerging markets because people who can’t spend a lot on phones can’t buy apps or take photos they must assume.

When will smartphone makers just agree that 32gb is the entry level for today stop using 8GB models to make people think about a flagship purchase instead. Apple keep their previous years model available but just with 8GB so no one thinks about actually buying old models and keeping the secondhand market thriving. Stop being dicks.

In fact 64gb is not really a stretch. 32gb / 64gb NAND chips are currently trading between $1.50 to $3.00. If the baseline for all smartphones was 32gb the price of those chips would fall through the floor. I know the margins are thin and the rest of the components will be sub dollar if not sub 10c but come on…move the ecosystem along without adding more complexity and confusion to your customers. Also why don’t phone companies just install the OS on a separate memory chip? Limit their own OS to a certain size and give customers the stated space so 8GB really is 8Gb not around 2gb once the OS is installed (yes I know the software needs to allow for that etc.).

In the UK the Moto G 3rd gen is £179 for 8Gb and £209 for the 16gb (which also features dual SIM slots) is currently the king of the mid range. But it looks like £30 for about 75c of memory. Not quite Apple levels of price gouging but still it looks like the 8GB versions are just useless and limiting the life of devices (which clearly to sell more phones you obviously want to do, especially if you make phones but it looks increasingly like a shitty short term strategy and very wasteful). Although I suspect Motorola also want people to consider their higher end flagship e.g. the Moto X Play.

We have the basic components for the perfect handset for most, yet no company really seems to be capable of executing on it. For me the perfect handset looks something like this.

Perfect Device

  • 4.5 – 5″ screen. I don’t want anything bigger, 4.5″ is plenty big enough for most. The iPhone 6 screen is 4.7″, My 4S is is just 3.5″ and I manage just fine…not the size, it is what you do with it etc.
  • 2gb of RAM, should be enough for most things
  • A decent enough quadcore processor, something that runs current OS versions well and is good enough for the next few too
  • 720p resolution is just fine
  • 32GB of Flash storage memory, 64Gb even better
  • MicroSD Card slot
  • 3000+Mah Battery (bigger, again better. The thing should last a full working day of real usage)
  • Android 5.0/5,1 as close to stock as possible with a good track record for updates
  • As good a camera as is possible. 13mp seems fairly entry level but stats are meaningless here just make it good and fast and decent in low light

How skinny or heavy the phone is not really of major concern. Yes it needs to be made of sound materials with a decent look about it but a rectangular device is what we are aiming for. I currently use an iPhone 4s in a Skech case which is over 13mm thick. And weighs over 160g. I would trade weight, thinness and screen size for battery life everytime. There must be some sort of golden ratio for these things, a sort of mobile phone version of knob feel? Pocket/hand feel? (this is reaching peak innuendo now).

I want all this for under £200 I expect it to be available for nearer to £100 by the end of 2016. These parts are available in devices under this price today just not seemingly all in one device. A few of the Chinese brands are getting very close but those devices are not widely available in the UK and are not sold by reputable/mainstream suppliers or directly to the UK.



The Nubia Mini 9 by ZTE looks like an almost perfect device apart from there seemingly being no 32gb version and it not really being for sale over yet here and may never be widely.

The Moto G 3rd Gen feels like it is getting close (they are hampered by their confusing naming scheme, average cameras and their various market models defined mainly by stupid storage restrictions).

The Sony M4 Aqua was a great device crippled by an 8gb only model (in the UK). Look at Sony’s own website lavishly praising the device on all fronts except one. Try and find out how much memory it has. 

The Sony M5 looks even better but Sony have said they will not launch it in the UK instead going with the much more expensive Z line (Z5 entry level = £439).

The company that really nails the ‘good enough standard for mobile devices’ will win a huge share if they can execute right. Insisting on making a multitude of SKUs for different markets and crippling them with low memory to stop people buying them over flagship models or just plain not making them available in all markets is just annoying. Sony the M5 is a total winner of a handset. No wonder you are reputedly losing 1 million dollars a day through your handset division. Employ fewer MBAs and more designers.

All the pieces are there to make what I see as the perfect mainstream handset, just that for a variety of business model reasons or design blindness, no one seems willing to make it. Will a company be brave enough/insightful enough to do it and execute well enough to disrupt the market and force the other players to raise their game?

More Issues

Another bugbear of mine is the way mobile phones are sold. Feels like the purchasing shift is only just starting to switch away from devices all being bundled with a contract and provider so the devices are not sold the same way as other electronic less infrastructure bound devices. Roll on soft SIMs.

This powerful play by telcos also means handsets are sold by a number of bizarre firms you have barely heard of that get them from who knows where. The mainstream retailers sell a few pay as you go / SIM free but it is still very limited / focused on a particular telco. Roll on more unlocked direct sales from manufacturers. Xiaomi, ZTE, Huawei et al have a great opportunity to really disrupt the way phones are made and sold. No way I am going to commit to a 2 year contract at £45 as I know have a contract under £15 a month for all you can use minutes and text and a good few GBs of data. The model of phone ownership for me has changed.

If only Apple would stop being ‘luxury’ providers and make a spec of iPhone that matches the above and prices it around the £250 mark. I would not be considering an Android device. I suspect it would dent Android growth significantly. Game over record profits at Apple I suspect as well though as fewer people buy the £700 flagship devices. Business is complicated innit.

Fix it

Come on handset and telcos sort it out. Move the market and set 32gb as the standard for memory. Build the best phone you can at the right price point. Your focus on market/region specific devices is crippling you. Don’t force purchase choices by setting limitations aimed at making people think about the next level up. Fewer models, fewer restrictive features. The less flash memory the more your brand disappears off my shopping list in a flash.

Leave a Reply