Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered


In our times, Gogol’s words are more relevant than ever: “If Nikanor Ivanovich’s lips were put to Ivan Kuzmich’s nose, and I’d take some swagger like Baltazar Baltazarych’s, and, perhaps, add to this the stoutness of Ivan Pavlovich, then I would immediately I made up my mind. ” In my case, this is a huge number of comments and “wishes” regarding smartphones. Now, if a 10 mAh battery was added here, and even five cameras, then I would definitely buy such a smartphone. What, no with turquoise buttons? We continue to search! It will cause a grin in some, but the army of hobbyists has created stereotypes that manufacturers can afford to stick any component into a device and the only reason they don’t do it is because they are greedy. It is possible that understanding the process of creating, for example, a smartphone can help to gain an understanding of the limitations that the development team faces. How they arise, what trade-offs have to be made and what it means to create a smartphone.

In order not to be unfounded, I suggest looking at the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which comes out at a cost of 50 thousand rubles. Outwardly, this device is clearly the successor to the Galaxy Note20, while the filling is a mixture of all the latest flagships. But the cost of 50 thousand rubles makes the smartphone the most affordable flagship in the line from Samsung.

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

A variety of color schemes clearly indicate that the model is intended for both young people and an older audience who can choose calm colors. We’ll come back to colors, but we need to understand how a smartphone is created and who is responsible for it.

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

Within any company, a separate team is responsible for product development, these are both engineers and marketers. Globally above them there is product planning, when a vision of the market and their products is created on it. This is painstaking, complex work involving hundreds of people from different departments. The current model range is evaluated, which can be presented in the following products. Most people believe that companies think in one generation of devices, with two generations at the most. This is completely wrong in practice.

Let me give you an example of a stereotype that stems from “common sense” and misunderstanding of the work of vertically oriented companies such as Samsung. There are various divisions within Samsung, for example, Samsung Display develops new screens, each year they appear in the line of this separate company. In the minds of the majority, when creating a smartphone, the screen is taken as a basis and then the device itself is built around it. There are those who say that you can order a screen with certain characteristics, including the size (diagonal, if that is more usual, although the “size” is more precise – it is not only the diagonal, but also the thickness of the matrix). And they are partially right, since many manufacturers do just that, they place an order for screens based on their needs and focusing on what exists on the market.

Let me ask a provocative question: how have your hands changed over the past ten years? Have they grown? Are your fingers longer? Perhaps the palms have become wider so that you can hold the new devices in your hands and not experience discomfort? Evolution cannot change the structure of our body before our eyes, so it is definitely not worth waiting for such changes.

Samsung’s research labs were well aware of this, as well as the fact that there is a certain range in which you can create devices that are convenient in size. And the shapes of such devices can be created even before there are components for them and the ability to produce them! The ergonomics of blanks for future smartphones can be considered before the very creation of these devices. And you can afford any step in the diagonal of the screen, the thickness of the case, its rounding, in order to find the ideal proportions. This is what the company was doing a long time ago, and only then, based on the findings, they tried to change the components, including the screens. The fact that the displays and housings are slightly bent is due to such research, such a shape is more comfortable in the hands. Amazing, isn’t it?

Most believe that they first take the components and then, like from cubes, assemble a smartphone from them. And this is partly true. But at the research stage, there is a team that directs this work at the top level, sets the vector of development for many years to come.

How many device generations are planned inside the same Samsung at a given time? For example, at Apple these are the current models plus one generation ahead, if we take the main line. At Samsung, things are a little more complicated – the current generation, the next, and one generation ahead. Component development requires an understanding of how you will change the stuffing of devices, one pulls the other. Let me give you an example: Samsung was the first to start equipping flagships with 128 GB of memory. This is a clear advantage, which many described as a marketing ploy, which it was only partially and flowed from the planning system. Inside Samsung there is a huge production of memory, the company needed to link the release of new types of memory, new conveyors and re-equipment of factories, as well as ensure their use in products, and guarantee sales. And this is a process that began two years before the first smartphones with this amount of memory hit the shelves.

This lyrical digression is simply necessary in order to understand that not ready-made templates are brought to the development team of a particular smartphone, but a set of wishes and requirements. The following things are taken out of the general development plan for the line of devices:

  • Positioning, cost, desired consumer groups
  • Screen diagonal (range of values)
  • Place in the product line
  • Required minimum requirements (operating time, support of certain technologies)

And then the creators of a specific product can create within the framework allotted to them, choose certain solutions in order to fit into the budget of their device. This is often a struggle for every penny, as it affects the final cost of a smartphone.

Let’s see who the Galaxy S20 FE was made for. The task was to give customers a more affordable flagship than older models. As part of this task, a noticeably different cost was definitely needed, which also automatically expands the potential audience.

For a manufacturer, adding new body colors is justified if the device has significant sales. It is also a tool to expand your potential audience, get away from classic colors, and diversify the perception of a model as much as possible. In marketing, it is also an opportunity to maximize the audience of advertising messages.

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

Obviously, Samsung has made the maximum number of colors for FE, and at the start of sales. These are calm colors, like other models, and bright, youthful colors. Why is it so important? Having a larger number of SKUs, and each color is a separate SKU, complicates logistics, increases the cost of the model in operating activities. But this is justified as the potential audience grows. The more expensive a smartphone is, the fewer color solutions are offered, however, and in the lower price segments, we do not see much variety. And this S20 FE is unique, as it allows you to express yourself through the bright or calm color of the apparatus.

How can you reduce the cost of the device without sacrificing the basic capabilities of the flagship? For example, you can reduce the number of cameras, as Apple does, by not providing a third telephoto module in the basic versions of the iPhone. Samsung has chosen a completely different path – you get three camera modules, two of them coincide with those that we see in the older models, but the telephoto is simplified, it is an 8-megapixel matrix. On a clear day, it gives excellent results, the difference will be noticeable when shooting at night.

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

The calculation is simple, most S20 FE buyers want a great camera and they get it. Choosing between the missing telephoto lens and the simplified one, most will choose the second option. This is a compromise that allows for less cost.

Let’s take a look at another point that allows us to evaluate the changes in the design of the device. For example, the Galaxy Note20 has the same reinforced polycarbonate case, which is durable and reliable. Many disparagingly call it plastic, but it has a number of advantages that are not observed in glass devices. In particular, in such a case, heat is well dissipated, which creates opportunities for greater battery performance from each charge, there is no local overheating.

The Note20 uses a graphene plate that removes heat from the processor and distributes it evenly over a large area of ​​the case. There are no local areas with overheating. The cost of such a solution is high, it is not possible to use it in the entire line at the moment. Therefore, FE was supplied with a good old copper tube, it is less efficient. This was compensated for by a slightly larger battery – 4500 mAh (in Note20 it is 4300 mAh). Again, a compromise that allows you to keep the cost within the required limits.

Inside the development team, they know what people want, but they still conduct research that should show what characteristics come to the fore at the moment. And the smartphone can be adapted for such requests. In the summer of 2020, Samsung conducted a survey of consumer preferences, more than 10 thousand people from six countries (South Korea, USA, UK, India, Indonesia, Brazil) answered what they want to see in their new smartphone from Samsung, the answers are quite curious:

  • 43% wanted a smartphone in dark blue, 41% – lilac, 39% – mint (you could choose multiple answers);
  • camera stabilization when shooting (54%), good night shooting (50%);
  • for the screen it was a refresh rate of 120 Hz (58%), a dark theme (38%), no bezels (32%);
  • a battery that will provide a whole day of work (54%);
  • protection against water (50%);
  • availability of memory cards (35%).

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

The Galaxy S20 FE was announced in early October, and the smartphone was already in production in the second half of September. And then the question arises, what characteristics could be changed in the device so as to meet the requests of potential buyers. Colors? Certainly. Cameras? Hardly. Screen refresh rate? Under a certain set of circumstances, yes.

Note that every team that builds a specific product always works with compromises. For example, the Note20 relied on the operating time from one charge, optimized everything that is possible, including the screen. And they abandoned the 120 Hz refresh rate, as it is in other Samsung flagships, but it was impossible to achieve the maximum runtime. What about the S20 FE? It seems that an affordable flagship shouldn’t have this feature, but since most buyers wanted this option, they added it.

Sofa Analytics # 238. How smartphones are empowered

Let’s take a look at models like the Note20 Ultra, Note20, and S20 FE. The protective glass of the screen is different in each case – in the first model it is Corning Gorilla Glass 7, in the second model it is already the 5th generation, and in the S20 FE it is only the 3rd. Why is that? The answer lies in the very compromise that is sought during development, which component to choose so that the device is successful, but retains its target cost. It seems to the layman that the difference between the individual components is not so great, but a decent amount always runs into the circle. The choice of the same Corning Gorilla Glass 3 is justified, the S20 FE model is an affordable flagship with all the ensuing properties. Want the ultimate in durability? Buy Note20 Ultra, but this is a different level of the device, everything is twisted to the maximum, there is no savings on anything. The very philosophy of the device is as follows. But the philosophy of the S20 FE is different, this model is for rational people, for those who want to get the right price / quality ratio.

In Russia, the perception of fashionable things is often different from other countries, fashionable automatically means expensive. Although this is no longer the case almost everywhere, the same S20 FE is definitely a fashionable device, albeit not for all audiences. Youth orientation, reasonable price will make it popular, there is no doubt about it.

What else has been done in this device to keep the cost reasonable? They refused from the bundled headphones, the bundle includes 15 W fast charging (the older models have 25 W, which is certainly better). This is also an option for keeping the cost at a good level.

It remains to say about 5G support. Hypothetically, I would like to get this technology; in practice, few people are willing to pay for it in the absence of such networks. So why pay for something that isn’t there? And this is the very rationality that becomes key for this model.

What do consumers want after purchasing a device? So that it is maintained as long as possible, so that its relevance remains for at least several years. In communications regarding the S20 FE, Samsung says that the device will receive three versions of Android in the future, as well as updates from Samsung and its UI, not to mention the monthly security updates. This allows us to say that this model will be long-lasting and popular in the market.

Marketing is also taken into account when designing a device, which is clearly seen in the example of the S20 Fan Edition. Instead of naming the device S20 Lite, the company says that this is not a lite version (and it is so in practice), but rather what customers wanted to get (which is also true). Slightly different semantic content, but everything changes beyond recognition. This is the correct positioning of the device.

You can talk about development endlessly, it is impossible to embrace the whole world in one material. In this text, I touched on only part of the story, showed how it looks from the inside of companies, what exactly is the emphasis and how. It is always a struggle for a compromise, a choice of those opportunities that are available to the development team. And at the same time, the desire to create the best device for your money. Looking at the price / quality ratio in each of the price segments, we can say that Samsung smartphones can do it.

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