The issue of pricing was once a problem associated with emerging markets only but in the recent past, it seems that smartphone pricing has become a global problem. Manufacturers have slowly but steadily pushed the prices of their flagship models above the ceilings of what we would call acceptable.

Remember when Apple launched the $1000 iPhone X and we were all up in arms crying foul and swearing that no one would buy the phone yet sales humbled our words. This big leap in pricing was followed by the likes of Samsung, Huawei, Sony and anyone else who felt like making a phone bundled with features no one asked for, all to justify charging an arm and a leg for it.

But we have matured, now, $1000 is nothing! Samsung has shot that up to almost $2000 and Huawei has smashed that even higher, why? Foldable phones whose reliability we aren’t even sure of anymore.

As much as we are no longer being taken aback by the flagship phone prices, there’s one thing that manufacturers did not see coming – they didn’t expect consumers to hold on to their flagship phones for longer. Yes, I will buy your overpriced phone but I will mint every inch of usability off it before I think of buying another phone and this is the challenge the likes of Samsung and Apple are now facing.

Unfortunately for us, these guys are smart, so smart that they have devised a new way to sell more phones to us, welcome the age of junior flagships.

Not Midrange Phones, but Junior Flagships

iPhone XR vs Pixel 3a - 2

Image Courtesy CNET


See, consumers are a weird lot, we demand a lot of manufacturers but do not want to dig deeper into our pockets, so to counter this, manufacturers started creating lite versions of their flagships that appealed to the budget conscious.

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This trend dates back quite a while with Huawei being among the pioneers of this strategy. When a new flagship phone is launched, a massive campaign comes along with it. Customers will see huge billboards, numerous reviews and, more often than not, poorly executed influencer posts – all talking about a certain phone that’s probably too expensive for a majority of people to afford.

Budget phones drive sales while flagships drive brand equity

So, to ride on the glory of this unicorn device comes a much lower priced, less spec’d phone that shares a name with the flagship. Since consumers want the big name without the big price, the manufacturers simply shed off weight on areas you will probably not care about and sell a mid-range device to you with a flagship name – it’s a game of perception.

Budget phones are where the money is, just look at the numbers the likes of Huawei, OPPO, Xiaomi and TECNO are posting. This category of phones drives sales while flagships drive brand equity. That is why even Apple is jumping on the junior flagship trend with the iPhone SE and the recent iPhone XR, Samsung has the S10e, Google the Pixel 3a, Huawei the P30 Lite, OnePlus tried it out with the OnePlus X, failed and now they are back with a different strategy, a normal “budget” OnePlus 7 and the $1000 OnePlus 7 Pro – essentially making the standard phone the new junior flagship.

Most times, these junior flagships feature a similar design with the flagship – only using inferior material, a few corners are cut with the display quality, maybe remove a few extras like wireless charging, water resistance and sometimes, the camera is compromised just a bit – all to keep the price low.

This change in direction is an indication that ceiling-priced flagships are not coming down the ladder any time soon but they will not have to, as junior flagships are here to take the thrown from underneath their expensive bottoms.

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