The latest phone that Xiaomi has announced, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, will not arrive in Spain until next June. When it does, yes, it will surprise more than one loyal user of the brand. Most likely, its price starts at 1,400 euros, much more than what the terminal costs in China.
The price matches the specifications. It is an ambitious mobile, manufactured with premium materials and a camera that comes with the Leica seal and offers variable aperture, uncommon in mobile telephony. The figure, however, definitively buries the image of the company as a manufacturer of "cheap" mobiles.
Although Xiaomi, obviously, has other phones in its catalog much more affordable, in recent years it has begun to scale its prices, betting on more powerful mobiles with more advanced features.
It is not the only one that is doing it and, together with serious problems during the last years in the supply chain of key components such as processors and memories, it has changed the landscape of the low-end mobile telephony, which less than five years ago was incredibly promising.
Before COVID turned the electronics market upside down, it was possible to find quite competent mobiles under 200 euros. They were not smartphones that could be compared with the latest iPhone or Galaxy, of course, but they offered acceptable benefits even close to 150 euros. For many users, who were content with a mobile that had WhatsApp and a decent camera, it was more than enough.
Today, 200 euros can be considered the minimum price of a smartphone (except for specific offers), and phones in that range are counted on the fingers of two hands. Those that are worthwhile, with those of one.
One culprit is 5G support, which started coming to many devices in the pandemic years. The jump to this new generation of wireless communications forced to equip new modems and use new antennas inside the devices that made the price more expensive.
In the early years it was a feature reserved for the most expensive smartphones, but little by little it has been sneaking into all terminals and although the price of the components has fallen, it has not yet reached the level that the modems and antennas of the last years of the 4G era had.
Unlike other components, manufacturers don't have many alternatives. A mobile can be put a somewhat worse screen but cheaper or a sensor with fewer megapixels, but there are only two large manufacturers of processors and modems (these components are usually grouped within the same chip), Qualcomm and Mediatek, and their options are limited because their interest is also to sell more expensive processors with better profit margin.
Although there are some phones on sale that do not integrate it, 5G support is beginning to be considered necessary in order to extend the life of the phones.
For the companies that make these devices, the weather isn't especially favorable either. Although some of the supply problems of the pandemic have now been resolved, the mobile phone market is in free fall. In the first quarter of this year, for example, smartphone sales have fallen 14.6%, according to the consulting firm IDC. "The industry is going through a period of inventory adjustment. Manufacturers remain cautious instead of dumping more phones in the channel to pursue growth in market share," explains Nabila Popal, research director of the company.
This forces brands like Xiaomi, which were previously willing to flood the low range with phones at balance prices in exchange for growing in the number of units sold, to go to higher price points and with better profit margins.
Another vector that makes pressure is the renewal cycle. The trick that made it possible for the telephone market to have mobile phones at a knockdown price was a frequent renewal of the devices.
In recent years, however, users have begun to extend this deadline. On average, in Spain, mobile phones used to be renewed every 19 or 20 months but today it is easy for phones to last more than two years in your pocket.
After the breakage by accident, the lack of support for new versions of the operating system is the main reason to replace a terminal, but both Google and Apple have achieved a level of stability in their platforms that allows mobile phones to work more than acceptably for several years. The changes between generations are no longer as great as they were a decade ago or even five years ago.
The consequence is that we are increasingly open to buying second-hand mobiles, refurbished or previous generations that are still on sale and to spend a little more than until a few years ago we would have considered prudent.
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