Full disclosure, ever since I tasted the Éclair, there was no going back! But I will be as objective as possible on this one… I promise! Oh, I’m talking about Android.

The mobile phone industry is one that I’ve observed with much intrigue. I come from a generation that grew the first 10-15 years without mobile technology in sight and then from there on we’ve seen pretty much all of it!

I love stories, so I’ll start from the beginning, at least locally here in Kenya. We could say the mobile phone entered the affordable range at the turn of the millennium. The brands that mattered then are dead by now, or at least they don’t matter. The strategy for the brands then was to produce cheaper devices that would then mean greater sales for them. By then the mobile phones were bi-functional, call for some crazy fee per minute (I think it was Kshs. 35 back then, which sounds ridiculous now compared to the Kshs. 3 we pay now) and text message for a crazy fee as well.

I remember our first mobile phone at home, the Ericsson. It was a marvel. This thing that you could talk to and hear the person at the other end. It was very big! I’m sure many pockets developed holes from this giant piece. This, though, triggered the battle for small. There was a Siemens with some red backlit LED that was a small as a desktop mouse. Then came the brand that mattered, a tire manufacturer from the 19th Century who knew the meaning of affordable… Nokia! This, now fallen brand – at least in terms of the mobile phone, was a behemoth of a brand when it came to the mobile phone. So powerful it was I am sure you can remember its famous ring tone – a perfect example of an audio brand identity i.e. you can identify the brand through sound.

Drunk with success, Nokia firmly believed in their strategy of extremely affordable mobile phones until an innovator by the name Motorola stepped in. It is funny that the inventors of the mobile phone (Motorola), and various network platforms like the GPRS and EDGE were nowhere to be seen until somewhere around 2004-2006. Their winning brand was famously known as the RAZR, unbelievably thin and sexy I must say! No, the phone was not easily affordable, and if you had one you’d easily turn heads… like I did (I’m fighting the bias really hard!).

The potency level of success must be very high, because like Nokia, they were also getting really drunk. By this time, they were still big players because each had a unique market to serve. There were other smaller players still roaming around because it was a hobby for them, I suspect LG here. Others hanging on from earlier success like Alcatel.
Innovation was being brewed behind the scenes. At this time, mobile manufacturers were busy trying to outdo each other with slimness, flip phones, slide phones, side slide phones etc.

Enter Apple, the brand that would forever change the mobile industry. Most do not know this, but Apple did really change the course of history at this particular time. The release of the iPhone sent Google, which was planning to release their first phone, back to the drawing board. This masterpiece, the iPhone, has today made 100% (or near there) of the phones we know today as touch screens.

The drawing board for Google wasn’t much of a drawing board, perhaps an imitating board? The first Android needless to say attracted lawsuits on infringements we do not really care about because thanks to Apple, we have great devices around us. Even as late as 2010 or 2011 thereabout, Nokia was still going down the sales curve with their affordability mantra, Motorola died with their extra sleek phones. They all did try to come back in the Android Era but it was too late for them. Even Google did try to resuscitate Motorola to no avail, maybe Lenovo can have better luck with them.

Samsung emerged somewhere from making fridges and on to phones. They did make some phones early on but success for them was embracing Android early. Their early touchscreens were as cool as the iPhone got, but still to date I’m not a big fan of Samsung except for their fridges and screens.

Apple Vs. The Rest

Now I’ll fast forward to date and talk about the real branding issue here. Apple’s success must have got many brand’s asking themselves questions. This was a brand at its height in 2012 with so much money than the US Federal Reserve! If it did not get you thinking as well, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

The Android brand was as good as it was evil… no in fact it was more evil. The success of Samsung, I could partly attribute it to the slight differentiation early on of its user experience on Android. They made it less of a geeky experience and more of a normal one. The rest of the were just Device Hustlers! There wasn’t much of a difference between the Android phones which is a phenomenon that occurs to date. Worse still, a “high end” phone had the exact same user experience as a budget phone.

The Device Hustlers

Consumers are wise and so are some Device Hustlers, brands without much of differentiating factor in them. The rise of China gave rise some very cheap Android phones… with the exact same user experience as the high-end phones. I must say I’ve been an admirer as well as a user of some of these brands. I had an Xperia (by then Sony Ericsson), you could say mid-range, and then the following Chinese brands: an Ideos by Huawei (I think twice), a San Francisco by ZTE, a H6 by Tecno… the point here being they all had the exact same user experience.

The Chinese drove the prices so low that giants like HTC were making losses, BlackBerry were nowhere in the picture and many others hurting and bleeding from the Android revolution.

The Problem

Many could point out at lack of innovation which is true by a large extent. While Samsung and Apple were battling it out in profits, the rest were bleeding in losses. There was a time we’d sit to wait for the next big thing on these phones. There was the Smart Stay and curved screens from Samsung, the Retina Display (and no jack… hehe) by Apple’s iPhone 7, the waterproof phones by Sony… innovations that truly led to sales.

The main difference for me was the lack of an identity for the rest of the mobile manufacturers, the Device Hustlers. What niche would one manufacturer carve out for themselves and own it? This thought was triggered by the fact that all these manufacturers out there have all manner of phones within their portfolio! Yet Apple release one or two every year.

Brands from the Android side of things that have managed to own a niche have gone to make some money for themselves. This is if you cannot keep up with the innovation pace. If you think of sturdy built phone, you think Xperia by Sony for example. The innovation landscape is for the chosen few, watch closely the brand Huawei with quality innovations copied by even Apple themselves (dual camera) and high end phones at almost half the price of Samsung!

Brand Marketing: An Example

I finish off with an example from China once again. Most may not know the brand OnePlus. They created a niche for themselves called “flagship killer”. Simply wait for everyone to make their innovations and do one better than them at half the price without compromising on quality… not one bit!

The launch of the brand was most interesting. They followed an almost similar pattern to Apple. This marketing strategy is genius and we could learn one or two things about creating desires! The first thing was to start off with a rumour. Secondly the issued test devices to industry pundits who in turn returned with the highest praise for the device. The next steps are my favourite! They went on pre-orders on an invite only basis for 10,000 units only. Needless to say, they were sold out on pre-orders. What a way to enter a crowded market. This was the OnePlus One phone.

The OnePlus Two was not less dramatic as everyone wanted a piece of this great device. Does this sound familiar to Apple? Their strategy is also astounding as they only release one phone or two of the same model per year, making one eager to get to the next one.

… simply, some brands are just device hustlers while others are real manufacturers, the innovators!