Image: Galaxy S6 announcement (source: PhoneArena)

Flagships Every Month – Are They Really Necessary?

Recently, OEMs like Elephone have been pushing out a new phone almost every month. That’s right, you heard me right. Almost every month. Is this necessary, or is it just for show?

Flagship or not?

When a device is considered flagship, it is usually considered to be the best, and/or newest device the OEM has released. For instance, Samsung’s flagships currently are the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 5, both sporting high-end specifications, and also of course a ridiculously high price. Recent flagships from Android OEMs have been pretty music disappointing to power users, as OEMs begin to take control over their devices by removing SD card slots and sticking the battery into the devices permanently. However, this does not stop OEMs from releasing new flagships that continue to get even better, in terms of specifications of course.

However, there are OEMs that release flagships almost every month. This will usually refer to the non-mainstream OEMs, but there are a few well known culprits of what I will now refer to as flagship-every-month syndrome. Elephone and Ulefone are the biggest culprits.

The Situation

Elephone Vowney (source: elephone.cc)

Elephone Vowney (source: elephone.cc)

Just a few months back, Elephone released the P7000, which is in my opinion one of the best Elephone devices I’ve ever seen. Soon after, the P8000 was announced, and just last month, the M1 and M2 were announced to be business oriented smartphones. Again, as if like clockwork, the Elephone Vowney was announced. With this, Elephone began discontinuing (or at least, stopped providing updates) even the newer devices like the P7000 and P8000. Many users have been reporting problems and software bugs on the forums but there doesn’t seem to be an active moderator actively responding to the users’ threads with useful information.

Ulefone Paris (source: Ulefone blog)

Ulefone Paris (source: Ulefone blog)

Ulefone does it a little differently though. After releasing the Be Pro, the Be Touch came up, then shortly after the improved Be Touch 2 was announced and released. Just recently, a new flagship the Ulefone Paris was just announced. The Ulefone Power is also rumoured to be announced soon. However, instead of discontinuing the older devices, Ulefone stuck to 2 devices: the Ulefone Be Touch 2, and the soon-to-be released Ulefone Paris. The updates are slow, but Ulefone does in fact communicate with their fans through social platforms like Facebook.

“Now, what’s this got to do with me” you might say, and I’ll explain it. As the consumer, you’d expect periodic updates, and as security and privacy become real world issues currently, you’d also expect security fixes and patches to be released quickly. However, with this many flagships, these small OEMs usually do not have the capability to manage and update all of them at once, thus leaving you, the consumer with a phone that quickly goes out-of-date. Take the Elephone P6000 for instance: it was once Elephone’s flagship early 2015, and received an Android 5.0 build shortly after it was manufactured. Due to certain hardware complications, Elephone had to manufacture the P6000-02, which was the exact same model with slightly different hardware.

However, after the 5.0 build was released, only a couple updates were given, and then updates completely stopped. There was no development, only radio silence. Old P6000 users had problems updating. Users fled to Elephone’s forums to complain and rage, but again, there are no active moderators. As Android got updated to 5.1, and now 6.0, the P6000 was still stuck in an old Android 5.0 build. Without source code, and without active developers, no one could update the device at all. Things like Stagefright were left unpatched, and all the problems that were in 5.0 persisted. This example perfectly illustrates the situation that is going on: flagships are pushed too quickly, and crucial updates are neglected. As a consumer of a device, what would you think of an OEM that does not provide crucial updates? And since we’re talking about Android here, what would you think if you were a power user who wants the latest bleeding edge software? I’m guessing it’ll be quite the negative outlook.

Verdict

So with all that yada over and done with, let’s take a look again at the question here: are flagships almost every month really necessary? My verdict is: no. All the OEMs have to do is to release one good flagship every 3 to 6 months, and if required release budget or side devices. Timely updates and patches will have to be provided too (in the case of MediaTek devices I’m not too sure). It is already evident that having a new flagship almost every month is very much making the fragmentation in the Android ecosystem worse, and it is even worse if these devices are not getting updates. In the eyes of some consumers, it may also seem like releasing flagships too quickly may seem like a ploy to constantly reel in profits but not loyal consumers who may likely stick to the brand.

As small and non-mainstream OEMs, these companies need to build their fanbase, instead of focusing on new products. If a product is good enough for the fanbase, make it even better by keeping it fresh all the time, instead of releasing a completely new product and abandoning the old one. This would be one efficient way of maintaining a loyal fanbase, and if done, these people may purchase products which may be released in the future. Take a look at Sony, for instance. Sure their fanbase may not be as big as Samsung’s or Apple’s, but they keep their software updated. Sony users, as I’ve spoken to multiple, tend to be very stuck to the Sony branding, and will use Sony devices for a long time, as the software is constantly updated as well. Comparing it to an OEM like Elephone which released flagships almost every month but still has no stable fanbase, there is a huge difference.

What do you think? Should smaller OEMs release more or less flagships? What should a flagship device have to impress? Let us know in the comments below.