RED’s New Smartphone Presents a Niche Challenge

In the ten years since smartphones entered the mainstream consciousness—Apple released its iPhone X on the tenth anniversary of the groundbreaking device—companies have attempted to make good on this new wave of portable tech. The results have been varied. This past year, Apple saw its share of the US smartphone market hit 34% in the second quarter—up 4.7 points from 2016—but still second place to Samsung, which rose 36.2% quarterly. The two companies have been vying for the top spot for years now, thanks largely to the iPhone’s cultural cache and Samsung’s global reputation. The two now contain some of the best cameras on the smartphone market, meaning that their dueling days are far from over.
This binary might seem somewhat limiting, not quite a monopoly, but not not one either. Boutique android phones have had a tough go of it, but RED, the company known for their high-resolution 4K camera equipment, is throwing its hat in the ring with the Hydrogen One, a new, high-end luxury smartphone.

RED Enters the Ring

While most smartphones are aiming for slimmer and slimmer hardware—bigger screens but thinner shells—RED founder Jim Jannard has made a point of boasting about the device’s uniquely industrial design. The exterior leans towards a chunkier silhouette, outfitted with scallops along the edges for better grip support. In many ways, its aesthetic is a rebuke to the daintier smartphone designs, with its broader and thicker exterior—“think SOLID” Jannard says in a post on RED’s message board. The phone also houses a large 4500mAh battery along with dual SIM slot, allowing for two phone numbers, or the insertion of a micro-SD card. This feature hints that the camera company is sticking to what it knows best when it comes to phone features.

A Display Worth Seeing

More than anything else, the Hydrogen One is pushing word of its holographic 4V display, a screen with resolution that is better than 3D, immersive or even augmented. The era of 3D’s nearing-domination has all but come and gone. 3D equipped televisions are now an afterthought; 3D films have received less and less studio roll out or advertisements; gaming devices rarely, if ever, incorporate it into their newest gizmos. All in all, the feature has come and gone like the novelty it is, destined to resurge in waves through the years.
As a result, the next step in screen design will have to include similarly flashy features but push the technology into a different era entirely. The 4V display is intended to be a benchmark of resolution, even while some have come to question just how epoch-defining the device will actually be. Still, the rollout had proven impressive, with a reportedly unprecedented number of carrier support across all major networks.

RED’s Niche Market

RED’s reputation is more niche than the typical phone manufacturer. They are not beloved by tech consumers, not known as a brand for television screens or computer monitors, or their intuitive operating software. RED’s niche demographic lies somewhere between tech junkies and cinephiles. Their cameras have long been lauded for their crisp digital resolution and their impressive durability. Yet a level of excitement has overtaken the tech industry, bringing together the likes of David Fincher and the editors of CNET, all of whom have marveled at a gizmo that is going for a pricy $1,595 titanium model (the aluminum model retails at $1,195).
It’s unlikely that the Hydrogen One will become anyone’s first smartphone of choice. Its hefty price tag and niche features make it a hard sell, but in the same way that the early aughts saw the development of luxury flip phones, some adorned with Swarovski crystals or patented Louis Vuitton leather. The era of the smartphone has been even more transformative than that of the cell phone, pushing technology and carriers to keep up. The development of the Hydrogen One is a feat not only for its technological engineering but for it being a sign that smaller boutique phones are making a comeback and finding their place in a changing industry, fusing form and function to challenge the monoliths simply by existing.