From Apple and Samsung to HTC, the flagship reinvents itself

FlagshipTo counter value-for-money phones, mobile phone companies now have more than one flagship device a year, or try to offer premium devices across price segments.

Are flagships, the big heroes of the mobile world, slowly losing their clout? Not really, if you look at the sales of the Apple iPhone 6, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or the Sony Z3. But their lure for certain categories of buyers seems to be slowly waning as the best specifications are no longer the exclusive domain of the flagships.

There was a time when the flagship smartphone, the top product from a company, usually priced upwards of $600, would have the features which none of the other phones from even the same brand would sport. This was the true flagship, a product for which people aspired for and saved up for months to buy. Even if everyone was not able to afford the flagship, the devices create a 'hero effect', where those aspiring for the top-end phone end up buying an affordable device from the same brand. With flagship smartphones, Sony is aiming to drive technology and design leadership. Sachin Rai, business head, Xperia, Sony India, said, "Within two years of the launch of our first flagship model, the Xperia Z, we have seen a significant growth in the smartphone category, with the Z series acting as a category image driver for Sony." Samsung too milked this wonderfully well for many years with the Galaxy S series and still does so with newer phones in the series.

While flagships still command a lot of eyeballs and eventual sales, they are slowly losing sheen primarily because the affordable phones are getting better. But with this low volume segment still accounting for substantial value for all companies, the manufacturers are reinventing how they sell the flagship. Earlier, you would have one flagship which would command a premium and drive people to buy a slightly lower cost model from the same brand—the so-called Hero Effect. A company like HTC has three or four flagship phones catering to different price points. "The hero effect will always be there for our flagship M8. Those who can't buy that will start looking at the Desire 816 a step below. But these consumers will always be looking to migrate to the top end device," explained Jack Yang, president, HTC South Asia.

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