The smartphone market in the U.S. basically boils down to three companies — Apple, Samsung and everyone else. And everyone else could be about to shrink.
Recently, a report claimed that LG might exit the smartphone business, citing years of losses for that division of the electronics giant. That the report surfaced shortly after LG made a splash at this year’s CES showing off a rollable phone suggests how hard it is for smartphone makers not named Apple and Samsung to capture sustained interest from U.S. phone buyers.
The ups and downs of device makers would normally be of little interest to those of us who just want to find the best phone out there. Who cares if Phone Maker X is struggling to break through so long as I can pick up a new iPhone or Galaxy S model every so often?
But even companies with the track records of Apple and Samsung need rivals to push them forward. And you could argue that the two-horse show that is the U.S. smartphone market these days is allowing a feeling of sameness to creep into the latest flagship devices.
Take Apple’s decision a few years back to stop placing a headphone jack in its new iPhones. Samsung resisted that move with its own flagships — until it didn’t. Now, you won’t find a Galaxy S or Galaxy Note model with a headphone jack. The recent Galaxy S21 models all shipped without microSD card slots, something Apple’s always left out of its iPhones. And after mocking Apple’s decision to not include a charger with the iPhone 12, Samsung did exactly the same thing with the Galaxy S21.
To be sure, you’re not going to confuse the iPhone 12 with the Galaxy S21 any time soon. But some of the differentiating factors between the two smartphones brands are starting to disappear.
The Apple-Samsung duopoly by the numbers
No one would dispute the fact that Apple and Samsung are the leading phone makers in the U.S. According to numbers from Counterpoint Research, in the third quarter of 2020, Apple enjoyed a 40% market share to Samsung’s 30%. The next biggest player was LG, with a 13% share, while other phone makers made up 11% of the market.
We don’t have fourth quarter numbers yet, but you’d figure that Apple’s share would only grow, given that the company enjoyed record phone sales the last three months of the year fueled by the iPhone 12’s release.
“Smartphones are a mature product category, and the U.S. market has been in a duopoly with Apple and Samsung for years,” said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst for Techsponential. “This is not ideal for consumers, but both companies are under considerable competitive pressure in markets outside the U.S., and that helps protect consumers from stagnation.”
Indeed, when you take the entire world into account, Huawei is the second largest phone maker, wedged between Samsung and Apple. And other companies combine to hold the largest slice of the global market, according to numbers from research firm IDC. “The bigger picture is that handset OEMs compete on a global scale, and competition remains healthy,” said Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal analyst with Gartner.
There’s another factor hanging over the U.S. phone market, where a lot of people still buy their devices through the phone carriers providing their wireless service as opposed to picking up the best unlocked phones. “U.S. carriers also play a strong gatekeeper role; as much as they would like alternatives to Apple and Samsung, they have also been unwilling to open up their shelves to the churn of Chinese vendors,” Greengart said.
Competition among budget phones
Apple and Samsung may command the lion’s share of attention for people looking for flagship phones, but there’s one segment of the market where they’re overshadowed by other players. Midrange phones have been lively in recent years, as phone makers try to attract budget-minded shoppers.
“We are seeing more options at lower price points,” Greengart said. The iPhone SE is Apple’s cheapest device at $399, but Apple hasn’t gone any lower with prices, Greengart added while “vendors like TCL, OnePlus, and Google are trying to expand the market for mid-tier devices.”
Motorola and Google have been especially successful at making waves. Motorola’s affordable G Series of phones have drawn a lot of interest from consumers by focusing on specific features like battery life in the case of the Moto G Power. Google’s Pixel flagships had failed to attract much of an audience until the company rolled out A series phones — first the Pixel 3a, then the Pixel 4a — that delivered high-end camera performance at a lower price.
That’s been the secret for phone makers looking to escape the long shadow cast by Apple and Samsung. Just how many premium features can you squeeze into a phone while keeping the overall price competitive to what the market leaders charge? OnePlus’ entire business model seems designed around this entire point, both with its flagships but especially with the affordable OnePlus Nord phones it started rolling out last year.
Can phone makers still innovate?
That’s a sign that there’s room for phone makers to establish their own devices, even if the iPhone and Galaxy flagships consume a lot of oxygen in the smartphone space. And it may just push Apple and Samsung to keep finding new features and enhancements for their phones, even if the smartphone market is a pretty mature one at this point.
“Both [Apple and Samsung] repeatedly highlight how much faster their processors are, how much bigger and brighter their screens are, and how much more developed their cameras are,” said Ramon Llamas, research director for mobile devices and AR/VR at IDC. “Neither company wants to be labeled as showing incremental improvement from their previous models, nor be a step or two behind the competition.”
Phone displays are a good example of where the market leaders have kept trying to elevate the user experience, especially in the case of Samsung. Last year’s Galaxy S20 introduced 120Hz refresh rates to Samsung’s flagship lineup and subsequent releases have seen the company add dynamic refresh that adjust depending on what task you’re performing.
Faster refreshing displays mean smoother scrolling and a better overall experience, which is pressuring Apple to respond in kind. Indeed, fast-refreshing displays are reportedly on the feature list for the iPhone 13 slated for release later this year.
Phone makers have also been trying to leave their mark with cameras. Recent Galaxy phones have seen Samsung up the megapixel rating on its main sensor — the Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 108MP camera as its primary shooter — while also upping the zoom capabilities of its camera phones. Apple, in turn, has put an emphasis on software improvements, introducing and enhancing features like Smart HDR, which enhances shots you take even in challenging lighting, and Deep Fusion, which calls out the finer details of photos.
Of course, you could make the case that the camera improvements in the iPhones and Galaxy devices might not have come as rapidly without Google applying the pressure to Apple and Samsung. While the Pixel phones may not enjoy a big slice of market share, they’ve undoubtedly introduced plenty of new capabilities to mobile photography, with the latest Pixels ranking among the best camera phones. Apple and Samsung would certainly be motivated to upgrade their cameras every year without the Pixel, but the extra competition certainly doesn’t hurt.
The outlook for smartphone competition
That’s why consumers can be forgiven if they’re a little bit worried that the dominance of Apple and Samsung might slow the pace of innovation in the smartphone market. Advances will still happen, but it’s a question of how rapidly they’ll come without the threat of extensive competition.
“We’ve reached a point in this market where the innovations have been coming incrementally,” Gartner’s Nguyen said. “The next big use case/application is what will change this dynamic — much in the same way that smartphones changed the mobile phone market in a substantial way. The million dollar question is what the application or combination of applications will be.”
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has announced a competition to pick eight co-passengers for his trip to the moon. The trip will occur in two years when fellow billionaire Elon Musk is expected to kick off his moon mission, in SpaceX’s Starship rocket. Maezawa had created history back in 2018 by becoming the first person to pay for the trip. Of course, the mission may be delayed still, but Maezawa seems bullish on its completion. The announcement was made via a video, in which he says humankind will once again head to the Moon in 2023. The mission will have 10 to 12 people in total, but Maeawa is opening 8 of those seats to anyone in the world.
How to apply to go to the moon
The steps to apply are easy enough, but one must remember that a moon mission isn’t the easiest thing for just anyone to achieve. Here’s what you need to do.
Open the dearMoon website, a site that Maezawa has setup to bring new information for the project.
The homepage of the website consists of the registration form, which includes your name, country, email address and a picture. You also need to tell them which social platforms you follow Maezawa on. The website also mentions that those who pre-register will receive an email about the selection process.
You will also get a certificate signifying that you were a candidate for the crew.
What is the dearMoon project?
Maezawa named his trip the dearMoon project and hasn’t clarified what the mission is meant to achieve. That’s an important note, since mission goals usually determine who will be picked for the mission. As mentioned before, it will take 10 to 12 people up to the Moon on the SpaceX Starship, which the company has been developing since 2012. It’s meant to be one of the first passenger missions to the moon. Elon Musk has also been planning a similar trip to Mars sometime in future.
Having private flyers is part of the way SpaceX funds its programs and the 2023 mission is expected to be the first time when man sets foot on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission back in 1972. Maezawa had originally said he wants to take “artists” with him, but added in this video that anyone doing something “creative” would be called an artist.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, job-seekers expect to attend employment interviews online. But increasingly, the employers and recruiters looking to hire are sitting those same interviews out.
Instead of asking candidates questions face-to-face, many hiring managers are now relying on asynchronous video interview (AVI) platforms that have candidates record answers to questions under a countdown timer.
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AVIs, which are also called one-way or on-demand interviews, have been around for years but their use has surged during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the American company HireVue, one of the larger companies operating in the market, said the company has seen a 24 per cent increase for its on-demand video interviews during the past year.
In the same time period, Toronto-based Knockri quadrupled its customers, and Moncton-based VidCruiter doubled its staff.
A representative with VidCruiter told CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living it used to earn 99 per cent of its revenue from clients outside Canada, but that has changed in the past three years. The company said its clients include the CBC, Canadian universities, big corporations — such as Lowe’s — and the federal government.
Candidates may find one-way interviews uncomfortable, and some experts pose questions over fairness, privacy, bias and the use of artificial intelligence. Despite these concerns, industrial-organizational psychologists predict the one-way job interview format is not going away.
Why hiring managers like the one-way interview
Using AVIs can eliminate having to navigate complicated and conflicting schedules, because candidates complete them on their own time. They can also cut travel costs if candidates are screened out before having to meet a potential employer in person.
One of the reasons why a lot of companies are turning to this technology is because of efficiency.– Edwin Torres, University of Central Florida
Timed questions also force candidates to be more succinct with their answers than they might be in traditional interviews.
Edwin Torres, a professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality management at the University of Central Florida, has interviewed hiring managers from hospitality companies using AVIs.
“One of the reasons why a lot of companies are turning to this technology is because of efficiency,” he said.
In addition, video recordings mean employers can re-watch interviews and share them with colleagues.
Job-seekers are not as keen on them
Companies claim AVIs can level the playing field by standardizing job interviews, but some candidates have expressed mixed feelings about the format.
Beatriz Gascon, a student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, struggled during an AVI interview for an internship at genetic sequencing company Illumina, based in the United Kingdom.
Gascon said she appreciated being able to re-record answers on the HireVue platform, but she froze during her second attempt answering a difficult question.
The platform submitted her second attempt, but she did not get the internship.
Gascon said she prefers face-to-face interviews because talking to a person calms her nerves and the format is more forgiving.
“Usually you have time to make small talk or repeat the question back to yourself,” she said but was frustrated that during her timed, one-way interview there was no way to do that, and no time to waste at even going over a question a second time.
Experts find some won’t complete AVIs
According to researchers at the University of Calgary, some candidates are so against one-way interviews in this format, they refuse to complete them.
“There are a number of people who feel very passionately negative,” said Joshua Bourdage, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary.
Bourdage and PhD candidate Eden-Raye Lukacik are researching perceptions of AVIs, including searching and scraping websites for comments about the interview format and then analyzing the emotions conveyed.
Many commenters complained that the AVI process may be more efficient for companies, but the interviews signal an unwillingness to invest time in speaking with applicants.
According to Bourdage, many job-seekers are interpreting this as a signal of what it would be like to work at a company that uses an AVI process.
How are the videos and recordings judged?
Since companies’ algorithms are proprietary and not shared publicly, neither candidates nor academics can fully understand how the recorded videos are evaluated.
Many companies use AVIs as a screening tool before scheduling face-to-face interviews with short-listed candidates, and some use artificial intelligence to rate what candidates say and how they say it.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, can scan for keywords as well as analyze body language and facial expressions.
AI’s advocates claim it can reduce unconscious bias if trained to ignore things like race and gender but this isn’t universally accepted.
“The problem with that technology is that it has biases built into it,” said Sean Fahey, CEO of VidCruiter.
The company’s own research found speech patterns varied in different regions in the U.S. and Canada. For example, an AI system programmed by someone who lived in one of those regions would automatically have a bias according to Fahey.
VidCruiter decided not to use AI in its product until the technology has been proven not to discriminate.
Researchers agree that artificial intelligence can be biased based on who programs it.
“As long as we train those systems on human ratings, on what the human raters tell us about those interviews, it’s so easy to have biases in this data,” said Markus Langer, a postdoctoral researcher in industrial-organizational psychology at Saarland University in Germany.
Langer, who researches AI and asynchronous interviews, said identifying biases is easier with a large and diverse dataset — something that isn’t always available.
How can candidates prepare?
Though Canadians may be comfortable recording videos in a social context, many are unprepared for AVIs according to Kimberley Black, a researcher who hopes to change that.
“Preparation for asynchronous video interviews needs to be a mandatory part of the curriculum now,” said Black, whose recently-defended masters thesis for Ontario Tech University focused on preparing students for asynchronous and one-way interviews.
Black had college students complete AVIs and critique their peers’ interviews. According to her, the experience led many to realize how much they could improve.
She recommends candidates wear professional clothing, smile, record in front of a neutral background, use hand gestures, and remember to look straight into the camera lens while speaking.
If struggling with that last tip, Black suggests taping a sticky note with a smiley face by the len.
At the University of Calgary, researcher Eden-Raye Lukacik recommends practicing, either by using the interview platform itself where possible or through a practice tool offered by her lab.
Lukacik also said candidates should also present themselves honestly, and pick a time and space that works best for them as they have an edge.
“You kind of get home-court advantage because you’re in your own house.”
Written and produced by Madeleine Cummings. Click “listen” at the top of the page to hear this segment, or download the Cost of Livingpodcast.
The Cost of Living airs every week on CBC Radio One, Sundays at 12:00 p.m. (12:30 NT).
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