The Move to One Flagship Phone

By Norman Chan

Consolidating a lineup is a good thing.

The HTC One--to be released in early April--is being well received by early reviewers. Reviews have praised the distinctive unibody aluminum design, 1080p LCD screen, and good use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 600 ARM processor. (Camera and battery life seem to be just about average, with some contrary reports that we'll have to test for ourselves.) But perhaps the thing that's most notable about the HTC One is that it represents a shift in focus for the handset maker, now concentrating all of its efforts in promoting a singular flagship phone instead of a lineup of phones. Last year, there was the HTC One X, S, and V, and they weren't on all of the four major US cellular networks. Now there's just the One, and it'll be on every network--even Verizon. This is a very good thing.

Samsung has done something very similar with its Galaxy line. When the first Galaxy phone was announced in 2010, it was spun off into different versions for different carriers, each with different names and slightly different builds. By the Galaxy S3, product differentiation within its own phones mattered less, and the GS3 name has rapidly caught up in mindshare with Android and iPhone (thanks in part to a tremendous amount of advertising spend). Other Android handset makers like HTC and Sony are following that trend--each want a singular phone brand that they can champion and update annually. That's why the impending Galaxy S IV announcement is such a big deal--this will be the Samsung phone for the next year. It's a model that's very similar to Apple's one-iPhone-a-year schedule (so far), and it's relieving consumer confusion over competing Android options.

Surprisingly, the one company that perhaps had the best opportunity to capitalize on the annual flagship release schedule is the one that has performed the worst: Motorola and its Droid phones. That's partially due to the Droid brand being a license granted to Verizon and not Motorola, and Google's as-yet inability (unwillingness?) to leverage its acquisition of Motorola to establish a great flagship Android phone brand on that front. Given that strength of the Nexus brand, it may not have incentive to do that anytime soon.