If not the iPhone, then…?

At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, numerous handset makers showcased their latest handsets. Chief among these were their high-end flagship devices. In this space, they battled to take a bite out of an extremely ripe Apple, with the American giant having already released not one but two new high-end devices to great acclaim in September 2014.

Indeed, with the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus as part of its arsenal, Apple recorded its largest quarterly profits ever, with its Q1 2015 earnings tipping the scale at $18 billion – yes, 18 billion! This not only made the first three months of the year Apple’s biggest quarter to date, but also the biggest quarter for any company in history. While Apple’s portfolio ranges from desktops to laptops to music players, the real stars of the show were the two new iPhone models, with combined sales totaling 74.5 million units and accounting for the vast majority of the vendor’s monster revenues.

So with Apple’s offerings already in the retail space, attention shifted to Barcelona, where a host of eagerly anticipated new Android offerings were unveiled, including handsets from Samsung and HTC. The former has had a tough year; its Galaxy S5 device did not make the waves the vendor had hoped for, and its earnings and market share both fell as a result. So it’s fair to say that Samsung’s next move is a big one.

To this end, the Galaxy S6 is being referred to as Project Zero, in essence serving as a complete rethink of the phone altogether. Among the most criticized elements of Samsung’s previous flagship devices were the inclusion of bloatware and variables in build quality. But with the Galaxy S6, the company has started from the ground up. The phone features unique applications, along with aluminum materials and curved edges, which has already gained a lot of public attention.

Samsung’s TouchWiz software is anticipated to be incredibly toned down in comparison to previous offerings, and the rumour mill also has an Edge variant in the offing, as is the case with the Galaxy Note 4. A QHD Super AMOLED display and 20MP cameras are among the other goodies on offer.

When it comes to HTC, the vendor might not be comparable to Samsung or Apple in terms of size and sales. But that didn’t stop it from releasing one of the most well-received flagship Android devices of 2014, the HTC One (M8). Encased in aluminum and featuring an incredibly sharper and slightly larger display from its peer M8, and the same 20-megapixel main camera but enhanced with the M8’s Duo Camera with the extra plus 3D effects. The most interesting addition to the new M9 is the fingerprint reader below the screen, which lets you quickly unlock the phone as well as make payments.

The new HTC One (M9), codenamed Hima, is expected to continue down the same proven path in terms of design language and build quality. The biggest improvement will come with the device’s rear camera, with the one area of criticism so far being the existing Ultra Pixel shooter and finally replaced with a 20MP camera. This arguably makes the HTC One (M9) a no-compromise smartphone. The HTC M9 and E9 come in two different sizes, following the approach adopted by Apple for its sixth-generation iPhone.

Apart from the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the HTC One (M9) in Barcelona, it is worth mentioning two new offerings from Sony and LG. The latter’s G3 handset garnered stellar reviews in 2014 and its successor, the G4, seems on track to doing the same.

As for Sony, the company is currently sailing in turbulent waters as it tries to turn things around for its ailing handset business. The vendor’s current Z3 device has been well received, but this hasn’t translated into the kind of high sales volumes the vendor was hoping for. The Z4 was originally slated for a MWC 2015 unveiling, but it looks as though consumers will have to wait a little longer to see it.

The smartphone market is really heating up as the mobile landscape has shifted drastically over the last 12 months, with some of the biggest names in the business coming under intense pressure from their rivals. As such, 2015 will be a critical year for manufacturers looking to reassert themselves in the field.

Flagship devices may represent just one portion of the mobile cake, but it’s a serving that is growing by the quarter, particularly in this part of the world. Indeed, IDC data shows over 40% of all smartphones shipped to the GCC in Q4 2014 fell into the $450+ price category. And while building a great flagship device is obviously the key, how vendors then market their devices and approach the distribution channel will ultimately decide how much of that cake they get to eat.