Let’s Talk About the F Word: What Is a Flagship Smartphone?

Jun 2, 2022
Let’s Talk About the F Word: What Is a Flagship Smartphone?

Flagship smartphone. Those two words have a lot of weight – and they probably mean different things to different people. What makes a smartphone a flagship? Why do people buy them? What do we expect from them? In this Q&A with Dr. Yenchi Lee, Deputy General Manager of MediaTek's Wireless Communications Business, we talk about what defines a flagship smartphone, why it’s important, and how this category is evolving.

Q: What features make a smartphone a flagship?

Flagship smartphones are ultimately about pushing the boundaries of technology to deliver incredible experiences to consumers, and can come in many different forms. From imaging capabilities that bring photography closer to the DSLR experience by using Artificial Intelligence engines, to improved displays that have turned smartphones into primary computing devices, flagship smartphones tend to have the latest and greatest innovations to get consumers excited. We’ve also seen new form factors and designs that make devices exciting and interesting – and allow people to use smartphones in new ways.

If we want to simply what flagship is, I would say every flagship smartphone must be outstanding in the “three Ps”: performance, power, and power efficiency. These three elements are essential for a smartphone to be considered flagship because they’re required to deliver the exceptional experience – in every aspect of the device – which people expect when they buy a flagship phone.

Q: Are most people looking for every one of those features in a smartphone?

Most consumers use their smartphones for a handful of primary tasks and expect a consistent experience, regardless of whether they are taking photos, playing games, working, connecting on social media, or streaming. That’s why the three Ps are so important. With these three elements, people can use one smartphone for an array of different tasks depending on what they value – and those uses could change from weekdays to weekends. The bottom line is that flagship smartphones will deliver a great experience no matter how you want to use your device.

Q: What’s a common misconception about flagship devices?

The most common misconception is that flagship smartphones are expensive devices that are only made by a few OEMs. There are different types of flagships, and flagship doesn’t have to equal expensive. For example, brands focused on the entry level or midrange market can have flagship smartphones that feature top of the line technology for that company or price point. There are also devices that are considered flagship in certain markets or verticals, like gaming. Overall, we should embrace competition because that’s what drives innovation and price, which is a win-win for consumers.

MediaTek has a 25-year history of developing brilliant technology for nearly every type of device on the market. From TVs and voice assistants to Wi-Fi routers and Chromebooks, we power more than 2 billion devices every year. We’re able to bring all of this expertise to smartphones and develop chips that deliver the exceptional experience consumers want, and already enjoy, when using other MediaTek-powered devices in their homes.

Q: What’s the most important flagship smartphone feature today?

It really depends on whom you ask. But no matter what consumers value most – from camera to battery life to gaming experience – it’s performance, power, and power efficiency that ultimately delivers that flagship experience. The best flagship devices are able to balance those three P’s. If you have a super high performance device, but you have to charge it every two hours, that is not a flagship experience. So the short answer is there isn’t one single most important feature. It’s a combination of features that need to work together to give consumers the best experience, or at least the experiences that make them feel they got a return on their smartphone investment.

Q: What will be the new or key flagship smartphone features over the next 2-3 years?

Smartphones have come a long way the past 5-10 years. The features we as consumers valued years ago, we still value today – and expect to do so five years from now. What’s different is that we’ve expanded how we’ve used those features. This comes from the performance, power, and power efficiency triad that has continued to get better and better each generation.

There are certainly elements like artificial intelligence that have expanded how we use our smartphones. And moving forward, technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality will continue broadening how smartphones are used. These newer technologies will be important and more central to the smartphone experience 2-3 years from now, but they’re going to rely on the performance, power, and power efficiency of a smartphone, which is required for a fantastic AR or VR experience – as well as the many new innovations that will surely come.

The word flagship didn’t start with phones. Back in the 1700s, a flagship was defined as a lead ship in a naval convoy that carried the commander of the fleet and displayed a unique flag. More than 300 years later, if you utter the word flagship, it’s assumed you’re probably talking about what’s in your pocket.

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