Are specs becoming meaningless in smartphones?

Just as dual-core chips represented the pinnacle of mobile devices last year, quad-core phones are shaping up to be the must-have feature on any premiere smartphone.

HTC chief marketing officer John Wang discusses the HTC One S at MWC in Barcelona, Spain.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The question is, do consumers really care?

Sure, the tech media and analyst community obsesses over specifications, and, at a show like Mobile World Congress (MWC), it's hard to fault a vendor for putting its best foot forward as competitors vie for their share of media attention. But with chip technology advancing so quickly, we're increasingly getting to the point where having the fastest processor doesn't necessarily equate to having the best phone. Beyond the hardcore phone enthusiasts, those specs have less meaning than ever before.

Some have been quick to pick up on this. Apple's presentations have always focused on experience over the hard numbers, and HTC is starting to follow suit. During its MWC press conference, CEO Peter Chou and Scott Croyle, head of design, spent more than an hour talking about their new One series of phones. They spent less than a minute talking about the processor powering them.

"What consumers care about isn't in the numbers," HTC chief marketing officer John Wang said to reporters following the announcement. "It's something more emotional".

Wang has a point. Beyond the early adopters and the phone enthusiasts, do people care about the number of cores a phone has?

Still, HTC's presentation was far from the norm. Huawei yesterday hailed its Ascend D Quad as the world's fastest smartphone — a title that it probably won't hold on to for too long. Sony, in its debut as a standalone mobile brand apart from Ericsson, sprinkled in some specs talk during its conference. Likewise, LG touted quad-core chips, but tacked on better battery life, a high-resolution display and a 4G LTE connection.

"People care about the specs," said Ramchan Woo, head of LG's smartphone division, about high-end customers. The company's goal this year was to pack its phone, the Optimus 4X HD, with all of the top specs in each category.

Mobile-device vendors are increasingly reliant upon specs as a critical way to differentiate themselves. With software looking similar from phone to phone, hardware and design are important ways in which consumers pick out their next phone.

The problem, however, is the little gain that is had from boasting of the fastest phone, because the next fastest phone is right around the corner, or already here. Many are touting Tegra 3 quad-core chips from Nvidia, including LG and HTC, while Huawei has a custom chip built internally.

It's telling that HTC got one of the warmest receptions on a day filled with phone announcements. The company didn't benefit from any early show excitement, either; its presentation stretched late into the night after a long day of conferences and more than one delayed start.

The enthusiasm carried over even when HTC said that its LTE version of its flagship One X phone would only use a Qualcomm dual-core chip, instead of the Tegra 3 quad-core processor.

And HTC's emphasis away from stats and on things like the speed and quality of its camera shouldn't be interpreted as the company shying away from horsepower.

"HTC is more than capable of entering that spec conversation," Wang said.


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Im Batman posted a comment   

The specs are becoming meaningless, to an extent.

Its the old expression "Don't judge a book by its over"
The specs will get the buyer interested, and they may be swayed by the sales person frome a lesser spec'd device (but equally capable). However, the buyer needs to now how the device works and performs.. the experience on two equally spec'd android phones can be completely different .. and a lesser spec'd phone can sometimes run the pants off a higher end phone.
It all comes down to how the vendor has put it together.

The vendors off course will make mention of the spec's, they are in a crazy market/competition.

HTC have to prove to a lot of people that their Sense 4 for ICS is not going to be heavy and a burden to the experience... and by all accounts so far, they have... the real test is to see how Sense 4 performs on the HTC One V (a single core, low ram device) if it can run "perfect" on this device, then the additional power of the quad and dual core big brothers is not requried to push sense around but allow the operating system to do more.

Windows phone has sort of done this, provided a base spec for the phones and ensured that the system will run how they wanted it too... then the vendors can give the specs a boost if they like.

I wouldn't say Apple doesn't "do specs"... they just don't do it like the rest of them... they don't talk explicitly about the nitty gritty.
Look at all the ipad 3 romours, higher res screen, LTE, faster processor etc. ... all spec.
But Apple wrap it all up by saying "dual core processor, accomplish tasks in half the time" etc.
The retina display is a huge spec for them, but they focus in on how sharp it is and how you can't see the pixels etc.

On the otherside, they show that top end specs are requried to get a great experience... the iphone 4s might be a dual core phone, but its only running at 800 MHz or something...

I think Hauwei is trying to break in, so they are pimping themselves and the specs as their main selling point as they don't have the history to rely and focus on user experience.

As the phone vendors mature they all tend to focus on the experience and less on the specs


bucketface posted a comment   

well i wouldn't say HTC is stepping back from specs. Concerning the One X and One XL they both perform very similarly. Atleast thats what benchmarks indicate, both the Tegra 3 quad core 1 and the S4 dual core trade blows in various tests, though the S4 has the upper hand in cpu power the Tegra 3 seems to win out in gfx power.
To make a long story short, I don't think people will be dissapointed in the performance of the One XL if they pick it up over the One X.

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