Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

stop releasing so many phones huawei mate 20 and pro side by 1

As the dust settled on Huawei’s Mate 20 event, we were left wondering about the death of the traditional release cycle for smartphones. The Chinese company unveiled three new phones in the shape of the Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, and the surprise Mate 20 X, all coming hot on the heels of the recently released Mate 20 Lite.

This wave of new flagships comes just six months after Huawei unveiled the P20, P20 Pro, and Porsche Design Mate RS. Sifting through these phones to decipher the differences is a confusing exercise. Has anyone taken the time to figure out who each model is supposed to be for? It doesn’t feel like it.

Scattergun approach

This new scattergun approach to smartphone release seems to be infecting much of the industry. And it’s joined by a growing tendency to update phones more frequently, immediately rolling out incremental improvements that would have previously been held over for an annual event.

LG has been releasing perplexingly small updates, going from LG V30 to V40 ThinQ, by way of the V30S ThinQ and V35 ThinQ, in just a year, during which it also found time to release the LG G7 ThinQ. We’re not convinced a slightly bigger screen, or a new camera, on their own are enough to merit a whole new model. It’s arguable where the excessive update threshold lies, but LG has definitely exceeded it.

Sony turned out the Xperia XZ2, XZ2 Compact, XZ2 Premium, and XZ3 all within six months. Except for the fact that the Compact is obviously smaller, the differences between these phones are minor and distinctly confusing.

Don’t even get us started on Huawei’s sub-brand, Honor, which has been churning out an enormous number of similar phones.

Samsung has long split the year into two big events, one for the Galaxy S in two sizes and one for the Note range. It has traditionally remained quiet about midrange and budget offerings, saving all its marketing focus for the big devices, but the recently announced quad-lens Galaxy A9 seems to be an exception that’s set to muddy the waters.

It’s not just the expensive end of the market that’s doing this — perhaps the worst offender over the last year is Motorola, now under Lenovo. We’ve seen the Moto E5, Moto E5 Play, Moto E5 Plus, Moto G6 Play, Moto G6, Moto G6 Plus, Moto Z3 Play, Moto Z3, and the Motorola One. It’s so much, we have a guide just to help you navigate all these phones. Rumors suggest we’ll be getting four new phones in the G range alone next year. The differences between these phones are not big enough to make them truly distinct.

Don’t even get us started on Huawei’s sub-brand, Honor, which has been churning out an enormous number of similar phones with minimal design or spec differences. Huawei recently overtook Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone seller, but it feels as though its pushing a winning strategy too far, adding more and more models without good reason.

Too much choice

For a while it was believed that more choice can only be good for consumers, but a famous jam-related experiment in 2000 challenged that supposition. Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford universities, published a study showing that people were less likely to buy when presented with too much choice.

There’s a moment in your explanation of the differences between two popular phones where a person’s eyes glaze over.

Shoppers were more attracted to the big display table bearing 24 different jams than the display with six jams, but they proved around 10 times less likely to buy something when presented with more choice. The takeaway was that too much choice can paralyze people and make us anxious. Even when we do choose, there’s a lingering fear that we’ve chosen the wrong thing.

The idea that more options can have a detrimental impact on our ability to choose has been confirmed in lots of research over the last few years, but an interesting study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2016 tried to break it down further. This comprehensive study analyzed prior research and identified four key situations when less choice boosts sales.

iPhone XS Max
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Two that leap out as immediately relevant for smartphones are “choice set complexity” and “decision task difficulty”, or in other words, when the product is complicated and it’s hard to compare.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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