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March 10, 2018

LG phones are about to change as it adopts a gutsy new strategy

by John_A

From the outside, it appears the current mindset at LG’s mobile division can be summed up in the title of a single song — “Land of Confusion” by Genesis. Why? For two reasons. First, utter bafflement at why the V30 isn’t flying out the door and beating the competition. And two — where LG should go next to reverse this concerning trend.

The confusion about where to go next extends to LG’s latest smartphone announcement, the V30S ThinQ, a suitably confusing name for a confusing phone. The fact it was announced outside of a quiet press release is a surprise, as it’s a minor update over the existing V30, with some tacked on artificial intelligence, and a tiny spec boost.

Are we witnessing the end times at LG’s mobile department?

LG doesn’t seem to be that sure about the G6 replacement either, which is due in the next few months, and mixed messages galore are coming from the company. Will it be called the G7? Will it look like an iPhone X clone? Will it be an entirely new phone that effectively ends the G Series? We’ve no idea, and on the heels of the V30S ThinQ, we’re concerned LG doesn’t know either.

Are we witnessing the end times at LG’s mobile department? Has it been beaten into submission by Samsung, despite putting out phones that are equal to, and sometimes better than its arch rival?

Bad times

Last year ended poorly for LG, after it consecutively posted losses in the last six months, and sold 13.9 million phones over the entire year. The LG V30 should, by all rights, have been a sales phenomenon. It’s excellent, with a beautiful screen, solid video camera, amazing audio performance, and a sleek modern design. It failed to excite buyers, just like the LG G6 before it. These two followed the failed modular LG G5, and the great-but-boring LG V20. Viewed alongside the astonishing sales success of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy Note 8, it’s easy to see how LG could become disheartened.

Bringing the V30S ThinQ to Mobile World Congress — a show ignored by several other phone makers, due to the Galaxy S9’s presence — was an odd decision. Huawei, which decided to launch the P20 at the end of March rather than in Barcelona, plastered the event with teasers for the phone, and sent out a few videos hinting at what makes it special. It grabbed attention, even though the company wasn’t prepared to reveal everything at the time.

Conversely, LG stayed silent about its upcoming flagship, which is rumored to launch in June, apart from a possible concept accidentally spotted on the show floor. Rather than generating excitement, this concept design caused concern because of a notch above the screen. Chances were blown, opportunities seemingly not grasped, and concerns began to grow about a lack of coherent strategy for LG phones of the future.

Worried? Yes, us too. But alterations are taking place at LG Mobile at a very high level, and provided they’re handled correctly and decisions from it are made with foresight, it may herald a complete turnaround for a mobile division desperately in need of a new direction.

Winds of change

Where’s the evidence? At the end of 2017 LG appointed a new CEO for its mobile division, a new Chief Technology Officer, and a new head of Global Marketing. These promotions became effective on January 1, 2018. New CEO Hwang Jeong-hwan is the man in charge of making decisions about future products, and in addition to continuing with current projects, he’s also capable of throwing everything out with the bathwater and starting again.

Done right it could turn LG Mobile into a reactive, quick to adapt, mobile force again.

LG Electronics’ CEO Jo Seong-jin also reportedly saw change in LG’s future, during a press conference for Korean media during CES 2018. “If there is something that is needed to be changed, we will change it,” he’s quoted as saying. He later commented on the future of the G and V series phones, or the emergence of a new brand, saying “Everything is up in the air and no final decision has been made.”

LG clearly knows it needs to try something new, but what will it try? Speaking to Digital Trends, LG’s Senior Director of Global Communications, Ken Hong, said, the company may release “more premium variations of existing phones” in the future, hinting unexpectedly at disrupting the traditional release cycle. Yes, more phones from LG. This would be a complete departure from its current two-device strategy, and a fairly brave one considering how the V30S ThinQ was received. However, done right it could turn LG Mobile into a reactive, quick to adapt, mobile force again.

It’s an interesting idea, but not a new strategy in the industry. Sony released incremental updates to its phones every six months or so until recently, and OnePlus refreshes its single phone on a very regular basis. When Sony did the same thing, it resulted in many faceless phones no-one really cared about. OnePlus grabs our interest every time, shrugs off the previous model, and pushes the new one for all it’s worth. It damn well works too. This is why it’s an exciting shift for LG.

LG V30S ThinQ (Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends)

What phones should we expect? We imagine the V30S ThinQ is a template for the type of revision we’ll see, but we’re hoping it doesn’t end there. If LG can refine this to echo OnePlus’s tactics, more benefits may come. It should definitely be able to avoid another situation like the G6, where the flagship phone was stuck with an older processor throughout its life, for example.

Switching to a speedier production schedule and keeping up with changing industry trends and advancements would also nicely separate LG from Samsung — a behemoth that reacts at the same speed as Apple, and has recently said it’s not interested in being first to deliver new tech anymore.

Confidence

The very fact LG’s not afraid of considerable change, and high level executives are talking about it openly, gives us confidence. It’s daring, and completely at odds with how we’d expect it to deal with these challenging times. Trying something really new, rather than steadfastly sticking to what’s not working, could change everything around. Naturally, it’s also a huge risk. But trying nothing definitely won’t net any results.

We have a feeling major changes are coming, and we’re hopeful for the results.

What’s even better is that we’ve also seen LG do this before, and it turned out really well. In 2013, LG rocketed to success after working on the Nexus 4 with Google, then releasing the LG G2, the G Flex, and subsequently the Nexus 5 and the LG G3. Prior to that, its phones weren’t great, yet it was able to pull itself up and make some of the best phones of the time. It did this by trying new things. Rear mounted buttons, flexible screens, 1440p screens, laser autofocus, and eventually wide-angle cameras.

LG’s got the history, the ability, and judging by the current upheaval, the guts to do the same thing again in 2018. Whether that starts with the G6 replacement, or a new V series phone later this year remains to be seen; but we have a feeling major changes are coming, and we’re hopeful for the results.

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