Samsung says new features could come to mid-range phones before flagships

Flashy new features almost always arrive on the most expensive smartphones first, but Samsung may start taking a different approach. DJ Koh, head of Samsung’s mobile division, tells CNBC that the company is now focused on differentiating mid-range phones ahead of flagship phones, as sales lag on higher-end models.

“In the past, I brought the new technology and differentiation to the flagship model and then moved to the mid-end. But I have changed my strategy from this year to bring technology and differentiation points starting from the mid-end,” Koh told CNBC.

Koh reportedly said that he had reorganized Samsung’s mobile development team to prepare for the strategy shift. The first phone to follow this new design approach is supposed to be this year’s Galaxy A series phone. Those phones are priced around $400, which puts them far below flagships like the S9 and Note 9, but still well above the type of budget phones that are popular in many markets.

Samsung’s mobile revenues have been sliding over the past couple years, and the smartphone market is changing: while high-end phones play well in the US, other markets are far more price sensitive while still looking for higher-end specs and features.

There are plenty of phones that will offer that balance. Barely a month goes by before exciting new features and designs make their way from flagships to cheaper phones designed for those markets, making it hard for companies stuck in a more traditional product cycle to stand out.

Samsung hasn’t avoided bringing higher-end features to mid-range phones — this year’s Galaxy A series, for instance, included an 18:9 screen and dual front-facing cameras. But it was going up against phones that offered screens with notches, the clear symbol of a 2018 device. That kind of difference makes it harder to compete with companies like OnePlus, which are quicker to bring these features to mid-range phones.

That all said, Koh told CNBC the changes are really just about “focusing on millennials who cannot afford the flagship.”