Apple was the only big phone maker not at Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona.
Android dominated the exhibition halls. All of the other big phone makers showed Android devices.
Even Blackberry sported a green Android toy robot on its otherwise unremarkable stand.
Android phone makers were all focused on competing with other Android phone makers.
In the past almost every phone maker would make constant reference to Apple designs or features.
At MWC 2016 Apple was a silent presence lurking in the background. You could see obvious nods at Apple design and features in the Android products on show, but nothing was said out loud. Nobody had an iPhone killer.
This makes sense. There isn’t one phone market. There are two operating in parallel.
Most phone buyers have already made a commitment to iOS or Android.
While a trickle switch from Android to Apple, for the most part, Android owners choose a new Android when replacing their phones. Android phone makers learnt to focus on them. In that sense Android competition is internal.
The noise at MWC 2016 was about premium Android phones. Yet the competitive danger phone makers face is from below.
Mid-range Android competition
An NZ$800 Android phone runs the same operating system software as an NZ$1500 phone. Chances are it can do almost everything the expensive phone does.
It may not be as elegant or as quick, but in all the most important ways it is the same product.
This is why premium Android phone makers emphasise small differences. In some cases we’re talking cosmetic differences only one step away from the tail fins on 1950s American cars.
The other aspect of this is that Android phone makers attempt to build their own ecosystems.
Apple has a distinct ecosystem. Android has one too. Samsung, Sony and LG would love to have their own ecosystem that is distinct from Android. They need this to bind users to their brand, not just to Android in general.
To date the attempts at build brand ecosystems have been clumsy. This year there’s been a shift towards must-have hardware accessories.
LG’s G5 phone has modules — called friends — that you can plug into the basic phone. Sony offers noise cancelling earphones. Samsung has the Gear 360 camera. All of these extras only work with a phone from the same brand.