At IFA 2017, LG unveiled the new V30 smartphone, notable features include:
- 6” FullVision P-OLED display with HDR. The first mainstream OLED model since the niche Flex/Flex2.
- First smartphone to support 600MHz spectrum band of T-Mobile US.
- Google Assistant, with LG-specific camera commands.
- Quad DAC audio with MQA support. Plus B&O tuned audio, but latter availability is market specific.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, 64GB or 128GB storage.
- Dual rear camera, F1.9 13MP 120 degree wide & F1.6 16MP normal lens with a new glass element improves light transmittance by 4%.
- Cine video modes, with multiple pre-set color grading options. 24bit audio on video capture.
- Gorilla Glass front and back, with wireless charging.
- IP68 water/dust resistance and MIL810G drop protection.
The V30 is a critical smartphone launch for LG to establish a differentiated brand positioning from both market leaders Samsung and Apple but even more importantly from the rise of Chinese brands such as Huawei, OPPO and Vivo.
LG is able to take advantage of its display panel business to deliver a high quality, HDR and super wide aspect ratio OLED display on V30. This is highly differentiated from Chinese brands which have struggled to secure OLED panels. Huawei’s P10 and Mate 9 both use LCD technology which is not compatible with HDR video content or with Google Daydream’s VR platform.
Samsung may have pushed OLED panels on smartphones for years, but it is an exception and not the norm. LG’s V30 is differentiated from Samsung because like LG’s previous G6, the V30 supports the HDR10 and aims to be compatible with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon HDR video content. Unlike LG's G6, the V30 does not include Dolby Vision HDR support. To date, because Samsung prefers to back a rival HDR format which is license cost free, its HDR smartphones such as S8 have not been able to play streaming HDR video content from the leading online video providers.
LG’s smartphone business has been struggling in recent years. But in the first half of 2017, LG enjoyed 2% year on year growth with 28m shipments. The high tier — over 400USD — is important for LG’s margins, profitability and brand halo effects more than for unit shipment volume. LG has historically shipped many more units in the low and mid-tier. The high tier of LG's range comprised just 23% of LG shipments in the first half of 2017. The V30 needs to stand out from rivals to help LG boost profitability.
In other regards, the V30 resembles many other smartphones. The challenge for all smartphone makers as bezels disappear, and the display takes up the full front face of the phone, is how to visibly distinguish their smartphone design in-store. In the past, the button design and bezels were key ways for designers to highlight a smartphone’s character. LG have recognized this challenge and have streamlined the rear design of the V30 and reduced the space taken up by the dual camera module.
LG are aiming to differentiate with video capture on V30. This is a shrewd move because it plays to the strengths of LG’s choice of a secondary wide field of view camera approach, rather than the telephoto offered by Apple and Samsung, or the same field mono sensor used on Huawei’s flagship models. Not only does V30 have color grading options, it also offers smooth zooming with user-controllable speed.
Interestingly, while others have chosen to partner with well-known camera brands, LG has not done this and must rely on their own brand to support the video camera differentiation. This is unusual: Huawei is working with Leica, HMD with Zeiss on Nokia models; Moto with Hasselblad; and Sony leverages its own sister division's camera brands.
IHS expects like its predecessor the V30 will have limitied popularity. The V20 shipped just 1.3m units in the second half of 2016. If as IHS Markit expects V30 has wider international availability — V20 was not launched in Europe — this will increase the volume modestly but no more. Those hoping V30’s Google Daydream VR support will revitalize mobile VR will be disappointed.
The V30 is a solid smartphone design which will maintain LG’s market position but is not sufficiently unique to turn around LG’s fortunes in the super competitive smartphone market. LG must widen V30’s availability, compared with V20, end its decision to limit specific differentiated features to certain regions/countries and raise marketing spend to increase V30 volumes significantly.