In The News
02 Feb 2014

Innovation dominates smartphone war for market

ONE of the world's first curved smartphones was launched in South Africa this week, with an array of innovations to prove that the device wars are not only about the shape.

The LG G Flex is the next step in the resurrection of a brand that is still better-known for air conditioners. The LG G2, a 5.2-inch device launched last year, was hailed as one of the phones of the year, and saw LG Electronics finally start appearing on the smartphone sales radar in South Africa.

Next week, South African stores will start selling the 5.5" G Pro Lite, a stripped-down version of the G Pro phablet launched last year.

As important as the size will be the price: about two-thirds that of the high-end version.

The curved G Flex is a completely different animal. It will compete with the very high-end of the market, in the rarefied R10 000 price cloud where sales volume is less important than being seen as cutting edge. It has a 6" display that is curved from top to bottom, providing what is claimed to be a more immersive viewing experience.

The device follows the launch by LG last month of the world's first flexible curved OLED TV screen. The immediate reaction to news of such devices is typically one of, who knew anyone wanted a curved screen?

Is it then a solution in search of a need? Innovation for the sake of innovation rather than meeting market requirements? LG doesn't seem to think so.

"Smartphones have evolved to a point where manufacturers have been sitting with a challenge," says Deon Prinsloo, Mobile General Manager of LG Electronics in South Africa.

"Where do we take smartphone technology further? How do you differentiate?"

Prinsloo argues that, despite the dazzling phones generally available, consumers still want a better hardware experience.

"As people increasingly watch movie clips and videos on their phones, they want an enhanced on-screen experience. That must follow the TV trends, where we're moving from LED to OLED to curved OLED to flexible curved. So we've taken our TV technology to the handset. The curved screen better targets the eyes, and because the distance from eyes to the edge of the screen is closer, it results in the eyes being more focused."

The Flex meets one other constant demand of consumers: more durable devices. It introduces a "self-healing coating", in the form of a paint technology that automatically recovers from minor scratches - and saves a new phone from looking battered after a few months.

The phone also has a curved battery, and that may be the device's most interesting technology of all: it hints at LG's move into wearable technology, with batteries designed for devices that wrap around the wrist.

Ultimately, the range of new technologies introduced in the Flex says more about the evolution of LG than about the evolution of the smartphone.

Like Sony with its "One Sony" strategy that demands all divisions collaborate on innovative products, LG has introduced project teams that span its numerous divisions. Some of these, like LG Display, dominate their markets. As unlikely as it may seem with its current 13,2% global market share, that is just where LG Electronics would like to be in the smartphone market.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times



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