BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

A Look Back At LG’s Wins & 5 Reasons It Couldn’t Survive In The Smartphone Market

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By July 2021, the world may be saying its final goodbye to LG Electronics Inc’s global mobile division. That’s when they’re expected to wind down, although the sales of their devices and replacement parts will continue for stocks that are still available on the market.

Reports earlier this year had already predicted the division’s closure after almost 6 consecutive years of losses amounting to about US$4.5 billion.

The last time LG Mobile turned a profit was in 2014, and at the time, they were considered to be one of the top smartphone manufacturers in the world with breakthrough designs.

It Started Off Well

The smartphone market has always been fiercely competitive, but LG was in a way a strong contender thanks to their risk-taking nature.

2011 was a defining year for LG when it got into the Guinness World Records after its Optimus 2X was the world’s first dual-core phone available to the public (announced and released).

Granted, there were issues with its OS, but early adopters were more than happy to overlook its flaws. This would also set the tone for LG’s adventurous spirit when it came to their phones.

LG’s first G series smartphone, the Optimus G, was already considered better than Samsung and HTC’s flagship phone efforts at the time, but LG further kicked it up a notch with the G2 in 2013.

It had a bigger battery than competitors Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One M7, and its camera supported 1080p/60fps recording before Samsung did. In the same year, their Optimus L4 was also the first triple-SIM smartphone on the market.

In 2015, the G4 brought to the table a leather back on some variants, a feature which Huawei, Oppo and Vivo have copied since then. It also had a microSD expansion and a removable battery, the latter being a feature LG would have in several of their future smartphones too.

It hit off with a certain group of users because it enabled them to replace and charge the empty battery on the go via “cradles” LG also sold.

One of the most talked-about LG smartphones in history may just be the V20, launched in 2016. It was the first of LG’s smartphones to offer the Quad DAC, a system that enhanced the audio quality of the port.

The V20 with its removable battery

It would go on to become a hallmark feature of LG’s smartphones, making them the go-to for audiophiles, DJs and musicians.

Other revolutionary and unique smartphone designs LG came up with over the years include the LG G Flex, the world’s first flexible smartphone, the V40 with its five cameras (another world’s first for LG), and the LG dual screen case.

When its competitors were looking into foldable phones, LG took a different route and instead offered users an optional second screen they could attach and detach to their V50, G8x, and V60.

So… What Happened?

In Q1 2014, LG revealed that they had sold more than 5 million LTE-enabled smartphones, 79% more than what they had sold for the entirety of the prior year.

It was an all-time record for the company then, and they said they had also shipped a total of 12.3 million smartphones in the year’s first trimester..

Not to mention, by then the company also had quite the portfolio of smartphones at different price points, making them an accessible choice for many.

But several major issues would begin to plague the company’s mobile line and cause them to lose sales at a momentum.

1) Bootloop Issues That Broke Customer Confidence

LG’s then-flagship phone in 2015, the G4, had bootloop issues, a problem with the hardware that causes a phone to go into a never-ending reboot cycle. Affected users were forced to seek service centres and received replacement G4’s, but unfortunately many replacements faced the same bootloop issues.

This understandably broke customer confidence and maybe even trust in the brand, and in 2018, LG settled a class action lawsuit over the bootloop issues in not only the G4, but the G5, V10, and V20, to name a few other afflicted phones.

2) They Had An Innovative Spirit, But Implementations Fell Short

The LG WING in action / Image Credit: LG’s video at CES2021

LG, ever wanting to provide users with a different experience, began experimenting with modular smartphones. They enabled different attachments to be connected to the bottom of the G5, which were supposed to provide additional functionality.

However, the modules were limited in number and usefulness, and so, were unpopular with consumers too.

3) An Extreme Slowness For Major Software Updates

The company has a poor track record of providing users with major software updates on time even for their flagship devices. They’ve actually acknowledged this multiple times and said they would develop a division to speed things up.

In 2018, we saw this achieved with their Software Upgrade division, yet for some reason, few changes were seen in their slowness.

4) Poor Marketing Efforts Compared To Competitors

When was the last time you’ve seen a marketing campaign or advertisement for LG’s smartphones? For me, it’d be many, many years ago, and mainly in cinema halls during those 20-minute ad sections.

Compared to other smartphone brands like Samsung and Apple, LG never really pulled out all the stops when it came to shouting out the launch of a new phone. This caused their launches to usually fly under the radar, until something unique or quirky was pointed out in reviews.

Unfortunately though, the one or two stand-out features were never really enough to convince consumers to make the purchase.

5) They Were Often The First, But Rarely The Best

The LG V60 with the dual screen case / Image Credit: GadgetMatch’s review of the LG V60 on YouTube

One of LG’s strongest points was their experimental attitude to create unique designs, but something they lacked was the conviction to develop them into their prime.

This made them the first to launch many then-unique designs which have since been taken and improved by other brands at a faster pace.

Take for example the ultra-wide camera function and their initial bezel-less push with the G2, both features which have been made popular by their competitors instead.

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It’s clear that while other brands preferred the route of safer improvements via iteration, LG had always preferred to try something new or radical.

Unfortunately, the mass market didn’t always appreciate their innovative moves, leading to slower adoption and sales. Early adopters alone cannot sustain a brand.

While the mainstream market would look back at LG smartphones and wonder, “Why would we even need something like that?”, the pool of users that remain ardent LG fans would retort with, “But why not?”

  • You can read our other pieces related to business failures here.

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