Technology Column

Why it’s time to ditch your favorite smartphone brand

Lucy Naland | Presentation Director

iPhones keep climbing in price, and new smartphones such as the OnePlus 5 are finally here to replace them.

Apple’s annual launch events rock the tech world every September, when the company unveils new products that have fans lining up outside Apple Stores for days. But this September might be a bit less exciting.

The iPhone 8, slated to be unveiled next week, is projected to cost more than $1,000, according to analysts at Fast Company. Samsung has always been deemed the next best, cheaper option from the iPhone, but the Samsung Galaxy is also getting more and more expensive.

Those growing price tags don’t just derive from a device’s components or the cost to put them together. Consumers are also paying for the small apple on the back of an iPhone 7 or the word “Samsung” on a Galaxy S8.

These massive price hikes have opened the door for less valuable brands such as Essential and OnePlus, which are starting to sell competing phones at a lower price. With these low-cost, high-end options hitting the market, it’s time to consider if a brand name is really worth emptying your wallet.

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A partly bitten apple and the word “Samsung” aren’t tangibly worth anything. But the logo does represent the respective company’s brand, which can be quite valuable or worthless depending on several factors. In the tech industry, one big factor that determines value is trust.

Companies like Apple and Samsung have spent tons of money and time convincing the public to trust their products. Whether that be through improved customer service experiences, device reliability or just convincing marketing campaigns, these companies are looking to improve their brand value so their products are worth more than face value.

Consumers buy tangible devices, but they also pay for confidence in the company that made them, said Adam Peruta, a professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

“When the price of something is higher, it’s perceived to be better quality or perceived to work better,” Peruta said, citing marketing research.

Because society has become so accustomed to paying a premium for confidence in our devices, it’s not always easy for small businesses to enter the market. But one new company, OnePlus, has shown that it could disrupt big phone manufacturers by offering affordable premium devices.

The average phone consumer probably hasn’t heard of it, but the OnePlus 5 was released in June. Compared to the iPhone 7, the OnePlus 5 has a bigger, higher-resolution display, a better camera and a longer-lasting battery. The iPhone 7 retails for $869 while the OnePlus 5 retails at — wait for it — $479.

For about $400 less, you can get a smartphone that has much more powerful hardware and a premium look and feel.

Even with all this potential, the OnePlus 5’s sales don’t even begin to compare to the iPhone’s. But confidence in a brand isn’t worth hundreds of dollars when similar devices are available.

The OnePlus 5 has been a technological success, but not every no-name brand phone has turned out so well. The brand new Essential Phone is much like the OnePlus 5: a powerful and beautiful phone that surpasses the performance capabilities of the iPhone.

But the Essential Phone has turned into a disappointment for the tech community. It not only had usability hiccups, but the company behind the phone, Essential, accidentally leaked the driver’s license information of almost 70 customers.

Peruta called Essential’s mistake “an amateur move,” adding that we should have higher standards for an amateur company. The mistake not only affects Essential’s brand, but also the consumer view of any manufacturers looking to enter the smartphone market.

But Essential’s situation doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust smaller phone manufacturers. Essential gave all the customers affected by the leak a year of “LifeLock” identity protection services. For a new company trying to prove its worth, this small move shows Essential is willing to invest more in security to prove it’s reliable as a brand.

While nobody likes having their information leaked, it’s barely been a year since Samsung’s devices were blowing up in customers’ pockets. If a big company is able to mess up so spectacularly and still hold its market position, small companies should have a chance to prove they can be more reliable.

As smartphone prices continue to rise, consumers need to know what they are getting for that cost. Essential and OnePlus are likely just some of the first manufacturers looking to undercut big players, and buyers should be on the lookout for new ways to save money without risking their sense of security.

David Fox is a junior information management and technology major. His column appears biweekly. He can be reached at djfox100@syr.edu.

Read the other side of this argument here.

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