Samsung introduces new affordable 5G smartphones

Samsung has added 5G to two of its A-series smartphones, aiming to bring 5G smartphones to the mainstream segment.

Though it is becoming more popular, 5G smartphone is still viewed as premium for early adopters. However, the two new products launched by Samsung today are of a distinctly different category. The A-series in Samsung’s Galaxy portfolio is positioned as more value for money and targeted at the lower-end segment. Products of this series come with decent enough specs but not priced at the top end.

“Our ambition with the Galaxy A series portfolio is to deliver must-have innovations, and powerful experiences, at a varied range of prices but without compromising on features” said YeonJeong Kim, Vice President, Head of Innovative Product Planning Group, Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics. “I’m excited today to be announcing the next step in our journey with the Galaxy A71 5G and Galaxy A51 5G. These devices are designed for the era of 5G, and are part of our ongoing commitment to deliver next-generation connectivity to more people, by building 5G into our diverse smartphone portfolio, at more accessible price points.”

The specs of the two new phones are rather similar, albeit that the Galaxy A71 5G (pictured) comes with a slightly bigger and better display, slightly more powerful main camera, and faster charging. Both are built on existing chassis: the LTE versions of the A71 and A51 were launched in December 2019.

The new 5G iterations of the products use Samsung’s own first generation 5G SoC, the 8nm Exynos 980 launched in the second half of last year (while the LTE version was using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 730 platform).

Both new phones will come with Samsung services and applications preinstalled, including Bixby (Vision, Lens Mode, Routines), Samsung Pay where applicable, and Samsung Health. They will also be equipped with Samsung Knox, the company’s own security software. Samsung does not specify when and where the products will be available, nor their prices.

There are quite a few 5G smartphone launches that we haven’t seen, due to the onslaught of COVID-19. Companies like Huawei and Xiaomi have moved their events online, but these were mainly for flagship products. Meanwhile, more and more OEMs are bringing 5G to the affordable, mainstream segment. Only a couple of days ago the Chinese phone maker TCL launched a £399 5G smartphone of its own, built on Qualcomm’s mid-range 5G SoC, Snapdragon 765.

The affordable 5G segment is further bolstered by the competing solution from MediaTek, the Dimensity 800. These mid-range 5G SoC’s, including Samsung’s own Exynos 980, are likely to bring the mainstream 5G smartphones down to the $500 retail price point, which will be “the sweet spot for 5G Android smartphone takeoff,” as Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics told Telecoms.com separately.

“This is when 5G phones become affordable to more than half of consumers in developed markets like Europe,” Mawston said.

Carphone Warehouse to close all 531 UK standalone shops

Tech retail group Dixons Carphone has announced it will close all of its remaining standalone Carphone Warehouse shops because they lose money.

The mobile business of Dixons Carphone is expected to make a £90 million loss this year, as replacement cycles lengthen, the secondary market flourishes and people increasingly go online for their purchases. Something has got to give and the snowballing coronavirus situation adds considerable additional urgency to this move.

Dixons Carphone has been consolidating its retail presence for years now; combining the big Curry’s and PC World stores into a great big consumer tech retail destination. It merged with Carphone Warehouse back in 2014 and has special phone zones in all its big stores. The standalone Carphone Warehouse shops are generally tiny and only account for 9% of the group’s total UK selling space.

“Customers are changing how they buy technology, and Dixons Carphone must change with them,” said Alex Baldock, Group Chief Executive. “We’re underway with a fundamental transformation to do so. Today’s tough decision is an essential part of that, the next step in making our UK Mobile business a success for customers, colleagues and other shareholders.

Clearly, with unsustainable losses of £90m expected this year, Mobile is currently holding back the whole business. There’s never an easy time for an announcement like this, but the turbulent times ahead only underline the importance of acting now. I don’t underestimate how upsetting this news will be for our colleagues, and we’ll treat everyone with honesty, respect and care.

We want to keep as many of our Carphone Warehouse colleagues as we can, and expect to find new roles for almost 40% of those affected. We’re working hard to look after those colleagues we can’t find new roles for, financially and otherwise. We’ll pay enhanced redundancy, any bonuses, honour their share awards, and help them find new jobs through an outplacement programme.”

There was also a COVID-19 update. The company says it hasn’t been materially affected by the pandemic yet and that there have been few supply constraints. The one exception has been its Dixons stores in airports, which are empty because nobody is travelling. Dixon Carphone is joining the rest of the world in wondering how long its credit line will last.

Vodafone announces strategic virtue-signalling partnership

Operator group Vodafone will be flogging the Fairphone 3 to its European customers from next year.

As the name implies, the Fairphone aspires to be fairer than other phones. “Fairphone builds a deeper understanding between people and their products, driving conversations about what ‘fair’ really means,” explains the company’s website. Those conversations are apparently still ongoing as we could find no definition of the term on the site other than a regular insistence that it’s something everyone should be striving towards.

Nebulous platitudes aside, the substantial differentiator for Fairphones lies in their ecological credentials. There is an emphasis on renewable materials and sourcing, which presumably means the manufacture and distribution of a Fairphone somehow does less damage to the environment than that of regular phones. But this doesn’t seem to be enough for Fairphone, which has also adopted a broader social agenda. “It’s no secret: we’re out to change the world,” declares the website.

Without, for one second, questioning Vodafone’s commitment to fairness and that sort of thing, its newly-announced partnership with Fairphone does provide some rather convenient, off-the-shelf corporte virtue-signalling. Future Vodafone Group presentations will doubtless be replete with photos of happy, healthy, developing world, rare-earth metal miners and idyllic, unspoilt wildernesses.

“This partnership with Fairphone aligns with Vodafone’s purpose to improve the lives of 1 billion people while halving its environmental impact by 2025,” said the press release. “This commitment by Vodafone includes halving its carbon footprint and purchasing all electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and Vodafone has committed to reuse, resell or recycle 100% of its network waste and help customers extend the lives of the devices they already own.”

“At Vodafone, we’re working hard to build a digital future that works for everyone and this strategic partnership between Vodafone and Fairphone brings together our expertise as Europe’s leading and largest converged technology communications company with the recognised expert in sustainable smartphones,” said Vodafone Group Chief Commercial Operations & Strategy Officer Ahmed Essam.

“Fairphone is showing that there is a market for more ethical phones to inspire the rest of the industry to produce more ethically,” said Fairphone CEO, Eva Gouwens. “Working with a large operator such as Vodafone helps to bring sustainable electronics to the mainstream market and therefore this is one of the strongest signals we can send to the rest of the industry.”

Fairphone seems to have its messaging a bit confused. It’s hard to find fault with its eco aspirations, but conflating those with ill-defined, subjective concepts such as ethics and fairness is at best a distraction. The phone itself charges a premium for all this virtue, which is fair enough (see what we did there?), but we doubt many people will decide they’re virtuous enough to pay it.

HTC taps Orange for new CEO

Struggling Taiwanese device maker HTC has finally found a full-time CEO by tapping into the European telecoms scene.

Former Orange exec Yves Maitre (pictured, no relation) takes over as CEO with immediate effect. He replaces owner and Chairwoman Cher Wang, who stepped in as CEO more than four years ago after deciding to throw in the towel on smartphones.  Wang has spent that time pivoting HTC towards virtual reality and the Vive headset, as well as some other connected devices.

Maitre was most recently EVP of Consumer Equipment and Partnerships at Orange was well as being a member of Orange’s innovation technology group, with a focus developing disruptive revenue opportunities, so his appointment is consistent with HTC’s new direction. Wang and the HTC board have clearly committed the company’s future to emerging mobile devices.

“When I took over as CEO four years ago, I set out to reinvent HTC as a complete ecosystem company and lay the foundations for the company to flourish across 5G and XR,” said Wang. “So, now is the perfect time to hand over the stewardship of HTC to a strong leader to guide us on the next stage of our journey.

“I am truly delighted that Yves is taking the reins; he has a long association with our company, and he shares our passion for innovation. I firmly believe Yves is the right leader to continue to lead HTC to its full potential.”

“HTC has long been a bellwether for new technology innovation and I’m honoured to be selected by the Board of Directors to lead the next phase of HTC,” said Maitre. “Across the world, HTC is recognized for its firsts across the mobile and XR space. I am incredibly energized to grow the future of both 5G and XR alongside HTC employees, customers and investors.  We will set out immediately to continue the transition from building the worlds’ best consumer hardware to also building complete services around them to make them easy to manage and deploy.”

XR refers to mixed reality, which covers all forms immersive digital experience, including augmented reality. The advent of 5G is a potential boon for this kind of tech, especially when the low-latency stuff starts to kick in, as it will enable wireless VR without the kind of lag that makes people throw up. Recruiting someone from the operator side appears to be an acknowledgement of that.

HTC was arguably the most successful Android smartphone maker initially, establishing close ties to Google and shipping in impressive volumes a decade ago. But then much bigger players like Samsung and Huawei got their acts together and HTC simply couldn’t compete with their deep pockets and economies of scale. It will attempt to replicate that feat with XR and hopefully will have a better strategy for fending off the big guys next time.

Facebook moves to distance itself from Huawei

Social media giant Facebook is blocking the preinstallation of all its apps on Huawei phones according to a report.

Reuters got the exclusive, but seems to actually have official confirmation from Facebook rather than the ‘people familiar with the matter’ that are so common these days. The company told Reuters that it won’t be allowing the preinstallation of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram on Huawei phones.

The move doesn’t apparently extend to stopping people installing the apps themselves or somehow trying to prevent their use if they do, which would have set an interesting precedent. There’s also no mention of geographical parameters, implying Facebook has gone for a global ban just to make sure it doesn’t upset the US government. A person familiar with the matter was finally dug up to add weight to the sense that this is a global ban.

This just the latest metastasis of the heat the US has been laying on Huawei, superficially over concerns about security and industrial espionage, but more deeply as a proxy in the broader geopolitical dispute between the US and China. Any company that’s keen to stay on the right side of US authorities is now under pressure to ostracise Huawei and it would be surprising if other US tech companies didn’t follow suit.