The Android manufacturers should take a lesson in branding from automakers
Two phones were released this past week, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2. If you weren't an enthusiast, would you be able to guess which phone was high-end and which phone was low-end?
Similarly, what are the different markets addressed by each of the following Samsung tablets, and if they're not addressing different markets, which ones are the improved sequels: the Galaxy Tab, the Galaxy Tab 7.7, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, the Galaxy Tab II, and the Galaxy Note 7.0?
One of the advantages of Apple's ecosystem over Android's is the simplicity of being a customer. Apple releases exactly one model, once a year, and it is feasible to do little to no research prior to buying. No matter which current product you buy, you can be assured that you will receive a high-end product of that type.
Android, in contrast, is characterized by a large number of manufacturers, each of which releases products at all ends of the market. This diversity of products is one of the Android ecosystem's greatest strengths, but the lack of clear branding leads to one of its major weaknesses: There is no simple rule, such as "just stuck with this brand", that customers can follow and be assured of receiving the product they're looking for.
The result of this is that it's not easy a non-enthusiast to buy an Android without having to either conduct research or ask someone who has. I would speculate a lot of these cases end up with someone getting overwhelmed and buying an Apple simply because it's a known quantity.
HTC recently streamlined its product line to make it easier to understand with the One X, One S, and One V. However, their approach remains poorly conceived from a branding point of view. To a prospective buyer, it's still not possible to simply remember to buy an HTC, or to buy a One, as the phones run the gamut from the high-end to the low-end. The key identifiers of product lines are left to unmemorable and undescriptive letters tagged on the end like afterthoughts.
As alluded to in the title, there is an industry that has a solution to this problem: the automaking industry.
Volkswagen Group is the parent company of not just Volkswagen, which produces car for the every man, but also luxury brand Audi, as well as top-end brands such as Bentley and Lamborghini, to name just a few. Within the brands, the names for lines of cars are kept relatively constant from year to year, with each line focused on a particular market niche.
This enables Volkswagen to keep releasing many models each year, satisfying every perceived opportunity in the marketplace, while still building long-term brand equity.
A buyer of an Audi doesn't have to conduct extensive research on the entire automotive marketplace before buying to know that he will receive a luxurious, high-end car when he buys an Audi.
This is a model that Android manufacturers should strive to emulate. It's okay to continue to release a multitude of products each year, but silo the devices into brands that mean something, so that high-end devices go into one brand, while entry-level devices go into another. Then, within each brand ensure that every product line is serving a distinct niche. Finally, within each product line ensure that releases are kept down to once a year to keep things easy to follow for consumers.
This way, for an existing and happy owner, upgrading is as simple as taking the model name of their existing device, and slapping the current year on the end in order to get the upgraded current version.
Besides, "the 2012 Samsung Galaxy" just sounds so much cooler than "the Galaxy S III".