The Mobile World Congress has predictably opened with a beauty parade of new smartphones with the likes of HTC, Sony and LG all trying to outdo eachother with their latest range of devices.
The event is always the first port of call for manufacturers to shed light on their latest creations and while the razzle dazzle is good for generatting positive buzz, it's hard to know if any of the devices released so far have what it takes to make a dent on their closest rival Samsung Electronics, much less Apple.
They might be or not be iPhone killers but HTC and Sony will certainly hope they are seen by the market as a symbol of revival.
HTC and Sony have received the lion's share of the media hype and that's not because the range on offer is ground breaking. They are soaking up the adulation because the companies releasing them have recently been swimming in choppy waters and there are many who reckon that this could perhaps be their best chance to recapture a slice of the smartphone market.
Sony has been battered on all fronts in the technology market. It posted record losses last year, and is set to beat all loss expectations this year, estimating losses of over $US2.9 billion. Here's a company that once dominated the market from TVs to console gaming to portable audio, that has since seen its dominance whittle away in the face of nimbler opponents.
Amid the sea of red the company's incoming boss Kazuo Hirai has unveiled two new Android-powered smartphones, Xperia P and Xperia U, carrying the Sony brand. So is this too little too late from Sony? Conventional wisdom may say yes but the outcome isn't a certainty. With mobile adoption continuing to gather steam perhaps there is room for all to grow, however, longevity is only possible if there is a distinct point of differentiation and a flourishing ecosystem to put the mind of users at ease.
That's one lesson that HTC, the company that used to be the premier holder of Google’s Android phone operating system, is paying some attention to.
The HTC One X, HTC One S, and HTC One V are all Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) smartphones that inculde Sense 4.0 interface, HTC's Beats Audio enhancement software, and a new image-processing chip that takes over camera and video tasks. If you want to stand out from the pack you have to do these hard yards and there's a lot at stake here for HTC.
Between 2010 and 2011 HTC smartphones sales ranked among the highest in the world. Yet, as a testament as to how fast technology changes in this industry, the following year HTC sales sank and its stock price plummeted.
According to Ovum analyst Tony Cripps, HTC has made the right move in trying to find a point of difference within the market.
“The company lacks the resources to easily differentiate itself from rivals such as Sony, Samsung, and Apple in terms of value-added services, so its decision to focus on perfecting core smartphone functionality around camera and music playback is an extremely pragmatic one,” Cripps says.
Yet this begs the question, isn't the smartphone market already saturated with products? Is it possible to break into this tight market?
Telsyte analyst Foad Fadaghi believes that there is room for growth in what he calls a “crowded market”.
“Australian consumer’s appetite for technology remains unabated,” Fadaghi says, referencing how financial downturn has affected other areas of retail and consumer products.
Fadaghi says that around seven million smartphones will be sold this year, with consumers looking to either upgrade or replace broken phones. He believes there is adequate room in the market for more smartphone products.
However, Fadaghi clarifies this point by saying it relies solely on the manufacturer pushing the specialities of their products.
“In a market where there are multiple options of the same brand. It is important for vendors to clearly stipulate their product differences,” he said.
To give an example, Fadaghi says that Sony would need to clearly indicate that their line of phones specialises in gaming, whereas HTC's line focuses on its Beat sound system.
Despite this, Fadaghi says that Apple will remain the market leader within Australia, but its position is increasingly shaky.
“We forecast that within the next couple of years Android should have the largest base of users in Australia,” Fadaghi says.
Samsung also looks set to continue its march towards a smartphone duopoly with Apple. Its latest phone, which was unveiled at the Mobile World Congress, includes a mini-projector, another move that helps the phone stand out.
Being innovative is difficult when you’re trailing the market. But when a company is on the verge of betting the house on a smartphone; it may be time to get creative.