Chinese smartphone makers chase Samsung Electronics’ lead in technology

Posted on : 2021-07-07 17:01 KST Modified on : 2021-07-07 17:01 KST
This year, the list of Best Smartphone nominees at the MWC included not only models by Huawei and OnePlus, but also another by China’s Xiaomi, the Mi 11 Ultra
A promotional image for Samsung Electronics’ flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (provided by Samsung Electronics)
A promotional image for Samsung Electronics’ flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (provided by Samsung Electronics)

After four years, Samsung Electronics has regained its glory.

The company’s Galaxy S21 Ultra was selected as Best Smartphone at the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile communications fair, which wrapped up in Barcelona on Thursday. It was the first time in the four years since 2017 that Samsung Electronics captured the honor.

A look back at past awardees and makers provides a panorama of the intense battle that has unfolded in the smartphone market over the past decade. On the whole, it has been a situation where late-starting Chinese manufacturers have been in hot pursuit of smartphone frontrunners Samsung and Apple.

Between 2011 and 2016, Apple and Samsung basically had the stage to themselves. Between the iPhone 4 in 2011 and the Gallery S6 Edge in 2016, the title went back and forth between the two. The lone exception came in 2014, when the Taiwanese company HTC — regularly a nominee during these years — ended up with the win.

Over that period, the main threats to Samsung and Apple’s dominance of the Best Smartphone title were traditional mobile phone heavyweights like Finland’s Nokia and Japan’s Sony.

Those competitors also shared the same fate in terms of a vastly diminished presence on the smartphone market by the late 2010s. HTC likewise fell by the wayside in the smartphone competition, selling off its smartphone unit to Google in 2017.

That same year marked China’s first appearance among the final nominees. The device in question was the P9, the premium model by Huawei, which drew notice for being the first company in the world to incorporate a Leica dual camera.

Huawei also appeared alongside Apple, Samsung, and LG as a final nominee in 2018 with its Mate 10 Pro. Apple’s iPhone X ended up being selected Best Smartphone that year.

The years 2019 and 2020 could be seen as truly signaling China’s smartphone arrival. Huawei claimed the best Smartphone honors in 2019 with its Mate 20 Pro and OnePlus last year with its OnePlus 7T Pro. Samsung and Apple both ended up denied for two years straight.

This year, the list of Best Smartphone nominees included not only models by Huawei and OnePlus, but also another by China’s Xiaomi, the Mi 11 Ultra.

The future is expected to look quite different from the 2010s, as the market’s emphasis shifts from the “best” to the “most.”

Another factor here is a changing environment, where cost competitiveness assumes greater importance as the technological competitiveness of companies converges on a higher standard. Already, different manufacturers are focusing their efforts on entry-level models offering more bang for the proverbial buck, rather than premium items boasting advanced technological capabilities.

This explains why industry insiders are predicting that Samsung Electronics’ new models to be launched later this year — the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 — will be sold for 20% less than previous items, with Apple’s iPhone 13 also expected to be marketed under a lower price tag.

While the Best Smartphone title is an occasion for companies to compete with the newest technology, its luster only lasts for so long.

By Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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