If the latest reports are to be trusted, LG isn’t going to push the modular design of the G5 on its flagship smartphone next year. That’s bad news for anyone invested in the system, and the company itself, of course. Actually, the whole plan may have failed as soon as it was drawn up.
The Electronic Times broke the news that the Korean company is cancelling its plans of a modularized design on its next flagship device, presumably called the LG G6, after a string of misfortunes following the release of the G5.
Let’s list down what we know: It met with disappointing sales just when LG badly needed an instant money maker; executives in charge of the G5’s development were removed a few months later; and users who bought into the idea of the phone’s modularity didn’t even bother to purchase any “Friends.”
The third fact is the biggest hit on the G5. According to the report, LG didn’t see the expected results because add-on components weren’t really wanted. For users, there was never any compelling reason to add expensive accessories to a smartphone that already matched every other top-end handset spec-for-spec.
And that’s the thing about smartphones these days; consumers want a gadget that works to its full potential out of the box, with the latest operating system and without any added complications.
Modular ecosystems have always been a tricky affair. Doing too much flushes it down the drain before even launching, and executing a smart yet untested plan yields poor long-term gains, like in the case of the LG G5.
The irony with the G5’s Friends is that they aren’t exactly friendly to interact with. Popping the phone’s chin and snapping out a part involves turning the entire device off and wearing out the metal frame over time. We demonstrated the process in our unboxing video:
Modularity done right goes all the way back to 1998. It’s easy to forget, but the Nokia 5110 had a removable battery that acted as the rear cover, and could be exchanged for units that provided vibration functionality or additional energy capacity. The feature phone sold exceedingly well, which eventually led to the release of the even more successful Nokia 3210 and 3310.
Lenovo-owned Moto did its homework before launching the semi-modular Z series. The Moto Z, Z Force, and Z Play have a similar concept to the old Nokia, wherein the attachments could be inserted on the back without removing something first or powering the phone off.
While the modules are still quite expensive, they’re very user-friendly and work on up to three handsets at the moment, which is three times what LG is offering. In addition, Moto promises a long-term commitment to the platform, and that’s what early adopters want to hear.
Despite the rumors, LG’s decision to ditch its ambitious plans isn’t much of a surprise, especially if you followed the progress of the V20.
As soon as the follow-up to last year’s surprise hit, the V10, was announced without any modularity to speak of, LG’s Friends were already assumed to be dead.
What’s strange is how the V20’s slogan mimics that of the G5’s marketing campaign: “Life’s good when you play more.” It makes a lot of sense when you think about the G5’s ability to play more with its Friends, but it’s strange to see the same line attached to the V20.
With only a removable battery to toy around with, it feels like someone forgot to update the marketing materials — or maybe, Friends compatibility was originally planned for the V20, before all the bad news came in.
We talked about how this development is a big blow for the tech giant’s image, and that backtracking on features has never ended well for smartphone brands. Commitment to a proven program resonates with consumers, even more than delivering next-level innovation, as shown by the incredible fortitude of Apple’s iPhone brand.
It’s clear that LG is still worried about losing trust from both its fans and hardware partners. By giving up on a big-time strategy less than a year in, not only will the company sacrifice a lot of hype for its next major announcement, but also scrap lots of useless components designed for the G5’s system and its future iterations, leading to tons of electronic waste.
To LG’s fortunes, the V20’s primary rival is out of the running for phone of the year. So while Samsung’s smaller flagship is carrying the brand until early 2017, the larger and far newer LG phablet is a top pick for anyone looking for a smartphone beyond 5.5 inches in display size. It helps that fellow competitors HTC and Sony aren’t bringing their A-games this year.
Looking back, you have to applaud LG for trying something new for each of its flagship. From the high-powered Optimus G and series-defining G2, to the bendable G Flex and rugged V10, no other smartphone manufacturer has ever taken more risks than the Korean brand.
ET’s report ends with the possibility of the upcoming G6 coming with features “not seen before in previous LG smartphones.” Banking on recent history, we have no reason to doubt LG’s ability to materialize its imagination.