As Apple prepares to launch the new iPhone 13, the smartphone market is more open for this launch than any other iPhone launch in recent times. If you look at the competition, Tim Cook has an open field to launch the next iteration of the the iOS-powered smartphone.
It’s important to remember that the window when a new device is ‘fresh’ is maybe a few months at most. Handsets launched in the first half of 2021 are essentially last year’s news going into the fourth quarter.
With the lack of a Galaxy Note launch this year, Samsung has ceded the popular momentum to Apple. The South Korean company’s recent ‘Galaxy Unpacked’ event brought new hardware to the table, but with the best will in the world the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 are not targeted at the mass market. Folding devices, while growing more affordable, remains a small category. While the design chops of a waterproof, durable, and foldable smartphone can be used as a yardstick, in terms of retail impact there’s no contest here.
As for the Galaxy S21 family, those three handsets will surely be picked out for head to head comparisons in print and online, but the handsets will have been on sale for eight months once the iPhone 13 range hits the streets.
Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro handsets will be launching after Apple’s iPhone event, although with the pre-announcement earlier this month, I suspect there are few surprises left in the handset. We’re going to get a handset which will be used to showcase the new UI and the latest version of Android. Developers and the geekerati will love it, there will be some name recognition, but Pixel handsets have never troubled the upper reaches of the smartphone sales charts. I don’t see Google putting in any massive order increase for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. This is a release to gather knowledge for the future, not to challenge in the high street.
The Pixel 7 is a handset for the future. Google’s Pixel plans include its own chip architecture in the Mobile Tensor chip. This is already used in its cavernous server farms, and it will be interesting to see just how much of a difference this chip can make to the Android experience. It’s a first-generation product so there will be teething troubles so it’s unlikely that Google will immediately match Apple’s prowess between iOS and the Axx chips, but it’s a start.
Then you have the handset manufactures that are not instinctively at the level of Apple. You might have big names that are happy in their smaller lane of smartphones (Sony would be a good example here), smaller companies that have focused on a specific area (such as the new RedMagic gaming phones), or are simply not looking to match Apple in a game of specifications Top Trumps (that would be HMD Global, which is working the Nokia brand at the mid- to low- end of the market).
Let’s put all them aside.
Let’s also put aside the various handsets from the shadowy BBK Electronics. Its various brands – RealMe, Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus, and IQOO. Combining the various brands and BBK would place it near the top of the global smartphone sales charts, but that’s not something the various brands acknowledge, each brand runs as if they were standalone companies.
OnePlus is probably the closest reflection of Apple. It is a name well-known to European markets and it has built up community that were once on a par with Apple’s geekerati. As it has expanded it’s portfolio from one focused handset per year to a larger range that covers many price points, OnePlus has gained more success but perhaps to the detriment of its older loyal fanbase.
In any case with the release of the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, and no sign of a OnePlus 9T being planned for October, any impact the new handsets will have faded into the background.
Perhaps the only challenge will be in China itself. This market has one advantage over the North American and European markets; the population is not beholden to Google Play Services in their flavors of Android. Huawei’s inclusion in the US Entities list that prevents the use of Google’s software has been crippling in the same markets where Apple is strong. That’s not the case in China.
China is also the stronghold of Xiaomi, which wields as much commercial power here as Apple does in America. That said, Xiaomi’s Mi11 family of handsets was launched earlier this year, again leaving the way open for Apple to be ‘the shiniest newest smartphone in the land’.
Nevertheless, it’s in China that Apple may face the biggest challenge. Everywhere else… the field is open for Tim Cook and his team to rush the opposition.