The Birth of the Budget Flagship Handset

When the iPhone X launched at around $999, it gave birth to an entirely new price point for flagship smartphones. When the Honor Play at around $365, with its Kirin 970 chipset and GPU turbo feature launched, it did the exact same thing by bringing the price tag for a flagship phone to unheard of levels. The Huawei branded handset tipped the price point into a direction opposite to that of the iPhone. This phenomenon points to just one thing – a smartphone’s flagship status is no longer defined by its price.
And we’re loving where all of this is going.

What is a flagship?

Flagship smartphones, by definition, is a brand’s fastest most feature-packed therefore most expensive handsets. When the original iPhone launched at about $399 people went crazy saying that the then-flagship iPhone was an expensive mess that nobody would be willing to spend their hard-earned money on. Were the pundits wrong on that assessment. That iPhone went on to become one of the most iconic smartphones to ever grace planet earth. It launched the smartphone into new mainstream acceptance.
With the pricing limits being breached, companies such as Samsung decided to take the plunge into the previously icy cold waters of expensive smartphones as well. Both of these two manufacturers went to battle in an epic tit-for-tat and one-upmanship that escalated into a heated war of the flagships. Year after year they released smartphones with the latest and greatest technology.
The pricing, however, never changed much. Sure, there were incremental increases but it was barely noticeable especially when compared to the price jump experienced by iPhone 8 to iPhone X.

The flagship killers

On the side-lines of the flagship war were lesser known brands such as Xiaomi and Huawei striving valiantly to keep pace with the two giants. To some degree, these smaller manufacturers have also become successful but not to the same extent that lets them enjoy the same brand recognition as Samsung or Apple. Their handsets are mainly the third and fourth option sometimes creating devices that are somewhat derivative from the two bigger brands but at a price point that’s more accessible to people with lower incomes. Xiaomi, for example, is known for being the Apple of China because of its tendency to copy off the American company. Huawei is mostly the same.
Brands like Xiaomi and Huawei made what was once known as the flagship killers. This is mostly because their phones shared similarities with the market leaders except the premium price. They were, in a way, intended to kill the giants much like David was destined to kill Goliath.

How the birth of iPhone X changed things

When the smartphone market seemingly plateaued in the early 2010s with Apple and Samsung producing flagship phones that are more iterative enhancements on popular versions of their handsets than as vehicles for innovation, the flagship killers began carving out more of their market share. This period saw Huawei overtaking Apple as the number 2 smartphone manufacturer in terms of phones sold and shipped worldwide. The Goliaths that are Samsung and Apple, it seemed, are crumbling. Changes had to come for the two giants.
This change came in the form of Apple’s 10th generation iPhone – the iPhone X. It was released in 2017 with an epic redesign compared to the iterative developments of the past iPhones. With the redesign comes a huge bump in price as well. It is the first ever mainstream phone that breached the $1,000 mark. Samsung soon followed with the Galaxy Note 8 at a similar price point after a disastrous bout with an exploding Galaxy Note 7.
This development made it difficult for the flagship killers to keep up. The overall package of the iPhone X with its trendy notch, innovative new security hardware, and previously unmatched screen-to-body ratio, are just too much for smaller brands to copy all at once. Samsung’s value proposition with the S-pen, proprietary DeX station, and infinity display are also just too difficult to offer on just one flagship killer package. Suddenly, Apple and Samsung are on another atmosphere again. The iPhone X and Note 8 were untouchables in both price point and innovation.

The Budget Flagship

Because of this inability to cope with the developments of Samsung and Apple, other companies had to shift gears. Instead of trying to copy the expensive innovations of the two behemoths, they had to innovate with what they had.
The result of their efforts is are smartphones that featured only parts of what the iPhone X and Note 8 offered. Aside from a flagship-level chipset like the Snapdragon 830, for example, other brands offered lesser versions of the features found on the $1,000 phones or perhaps no other flagship feature at all.
However, some companies such as Huawei are bold enough to try to out-innovate the both Apple and Samsung by going their own way in terms of improving their phones. The phone company has recently announced their Honor Play – a $365 smartphone with top-of-the-line chipset and a GPU-turbo feature that allows the phone to essentially overclock itself when playing games. Others, like the Huawei P series, chose to go with camera specific enhancements combined with a flagship-grade CPU. Phones like these have, like the flagship killers that came before them, carved their own niche market in the flagship pie.

How does this affect the smartphone market?

Apple and Samsung will continue to push the envelope in the smartphone world with their ultra-expensive flagship phones with some brave few who will try to outdo them. Those products, as seen in the overall sales numbers of both the iPhone X and Note 8 however, will be relegated to futuristic aspirational products whose features aren’t even mature enough for mainstream usage. DeX, for example, still has not seen a wide application in people’s daily lives. The iPhone’s new features such as animojis, on the other hand, still remains to
Others brands will continue to pursue greatness in other more practical ways. They will continue to create budget flagship devices that offer much of the same core features such as top-notch computing power, excellent camera and gaming performance, and cutting edge screen. For a lot of people, those are more than enough features than they can use for their daily tasks.