In Search of the Long Tail

Hopeful Device Makers Look for a Niche in the Smartphone Market

On 4 June, at the Computex 2018 event in Taiwan, Asus sub-brand, Republic of Gamers, unveiled a new Android smartphone aimed specifically at serious gamers. Called the ROG Phone, it has a six-inch AMOLED display with a 90 Hz refresh cycle, a Qualcomm octa-core Snapdragon 845 chipset, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB on-board storage option, dual front-facing stereo speakers and a 4,000 mAh battery. The phone also features what Asus boasts is a “3D vapor-chamber cooling system”, indicating that, like high-end gaming PCs, the device generates heat during game play.

The hardware maker also unveiled several accessories for its new phone, including controllers and a docking station, allowing games to be played on an external display such as a TV. This is a big, powerful phone and Asus will be hoping that it can create a mobile gaming ecosystem. The company didn’t reveal a price, but the phone’s specifications suggest that it will be at the high-end of the flagship range.

Like Razer with its gaming smartphone, Asus knows that its ROG Phone isn’t a mainstream device, and that its appeal will be limited to a very specific audience, particularly the most enthusiastic fans of the popular Republic of Gamers products (see Game On in Smartphone Market). Asus is pursuing a niche of a niche.

In 2017, high-end camera maker, Red, announced its plans to join the smartphone party with the Hydrogen One. Despite not being a well-known name among most consumers, professional and enthusiastic amateur photographers are familiar with the brand, and most movie fans have seen content shot with Red imaging equipment, such as Avatar, The Hobbit and Deadpool.

Billed as “the world’s first holographic media machine”, with a 3D display that obviates the need to wear special glasses, Red’s Hydrogen One is priced to be special, starting at $1,295. The company hopes to attract a small set of tech enthusiasts, possibly within its existing customers. To its credit, the phone will be sold by AT&T and Verizon, the two largest wireless carriers in the US, when it starts shipping later in 2018. Although this will give the phone top-level exposure, we don’t expect it to pull in any dedicated iPhone or Samsung users.

Considering that the global smartphone market is, by some metrics, the world’s largest consumer product category, it’s still a very concentrated industry. Our statistics show that the top 10 smartphone makers control 80 percent of the global market, up from about 75 percent in 2016. Few players are able to scale up to be truly competitive in this sphere.

Asus, Razer and Red are banking on the existence of a long tail of the smartphone market, but their expectations need to be tempered and patience will be required. Consumers are aware of the risks of buying a new-model car in its introductory year. Along the same lines, there’s a risk in buying a new smartphone from an unproven brand.

The pull factor is evident. The smartphone market is an exciting place, and its scale makes it a tempting target. We don’t doubt that there’s a chance for new and lesser-known competitors to make a mark and boost interest in this space by introducing new features. The smartphone industry has become one of the most homogenous consumer markets in the world and we admit we’re always eager to see something fresh out there. The smartphone market needs its long tail.

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