Homogeneity is the Villain

Samsung and OnePlus’ latest products have moved away from retaining their key brand assets and instead, gravitated towards a more common-esque monolithic design. A grave mistake.

Do me a favour. Tell me which brand makes these products.

Easy question right?

The ugly phone in the middle is an iPhone, the boring watch on the left is an Apple Watch and that weird earphone is an AirPod. There was no brand name written anywhere, no label, zip, nada. How did you identify them?

“Well that’s what they all look like!”

Aha! Welcome to my newsletter.

A few weeks ago, I managed to catch the meltdown of a smattering of Android fans regarding the newly launched OnePlus 10T. Upon closer inspection, I realised why they were livid. And I gotta tell you, I am on their side, but for a slightly different reason.

OnePlus has been incurring the wrath of Android fanboys with some of their moves in the last few years already, with the merger & closer integration of OnePlus and Oppo, raising prices, boring mid-tier designs. It just is not retaining its own carefully built distinctive key brand assets and instead wants to be in the category of being unrecognisable.

With their latest smartphone, they removed perhaps their most distinctive product feature that has been in all of their top-tier smartphones at least, the Alert Slider.

It was bad enough for OnePlus to remove such a distinctive feature from its Nord devices, but at least me and others could justify the omission based on the price of those phones. But on a flagship phone? Not so much.

Let’s take Samsung. I used to have a Samsung Smartwatch until about a year ago. I loved that piece, especially that rotating bezel. It was perfect for fidgeting around. It had been on all of their premium smartwatches. Guess what happened next?

Disappointment. That’s what happened.

Both of these distinctive, key hardware features were things that set each respective brand apart from the pack of boring, similar-looking and feeling devices. Yet, both companies saw fit to remove them.

Why?

Not only did consumers love these two features, but they were key brand identifiers that simply should not have been removed in the first place.

I am sure, a couple of you are thinking, “this is just a classic over-reaction.” Right?

Fair enough. Everyday users probably would not care enough about either of these features going away. I doubt anyone at Samsung or OnePlus will lose sleep over the small number of users that allegedly won’t buy the latest gadget over a relatively unimportant feature loss.

But this is where they may have gotten it wrong. In the short term, it might not seem like such a big deal, but in the long term, it really is a bad decision.

Sure, the main goal of any of these OEMs is simply to make money, and annual product release cycles ensure that R&D investments can be recouped in fairly short order. But a brand, by definition, must do what it can to create distinctiveness about itself and its products. The brand and its products must be recognisable from a distance, to sell more of its products than other brands.

At the very least, a brand needs to look visually distinct in a sea of people wearing and using similar products.

There’s a reason Apple continues to use a hideous notch on its phones and now its laptops, continues to make only square smartwatches, and sells millions of earbuds that distinctly look like the end of a toothbrush is hanging out of someone’s ear. There is a reason AirPods Max headphones have an ugly excuse of a case to put the headphones in.

Why does Apple do it?

You recognize the product the second you see it!

Ugly or not, they’re iconic!

After all, who would buy an Oreo just because it says Oreo on the label and not because it tastes better or offers more flavours? No one, that’s who. Especially if that name brand is priced higher.

The same logic applies to smartwatches or smartphones. For years, OnePlus phones have differentiated themselves in a few key areas. They were usually one of the fastest — if not the fastest — phones you could buy. They had clean, yet feature-rich software. They also had an alert slider, which no other Android phone could claim. But two of those three features have slowly slid off the tracks over the past few years.

Similarly, we’ve seen Samsung slowly remove the physically-rotating bezel since the launch of the original Galaxy Watch Active. I’ve never met a person who actually liked the capacitive bezel, and can’t wrap my head around why Samsung would continue to push such a feature. Yet, here we are in 2022, and no new Galaxy Watch has a physically-rotating bezel.

Sigh.

Look, I get it.

Engineering a fast, sleek, light, and feature-rich device is no easy task, despite the annual release cycle warping our paradigms. I understand it’s a challenge to incorporate everyone’s favorite features into every hardware release. But I’d like to implore companies like Samsung and OnePlus to seriously consider how important these types of features are to consumers, especially folks who buy a specific brand for a specific reason.

Don’t abandon your base, and don’t forget what makes your products unique, exciting and distinctive for your customers.

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Parijat Jha

Parijat Jha

Marketing Savant | Subscribe to my newsletter to learn how to creatively ideate, boringly effective work for your brand. Twitter: @parijatjha47