What happened to LG?

In case you missed it, LG is shutting down its mobile phone business worldwide. Some are holding up their candles in a somber sendoff for LG, others are celebrating with mirth. 

I myself am between both camps. I really enjoyed LG’s wares (I had a Voyager, an enV3 and enV Touch, and had a Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, and still have a G4 on my shelf, but more of that later) and am sad that they’re leaving the market, but on the other hand, I’m of the belief they deserved the fate they suffered. LG is–just like HTC–an example of what can happen to a company that is successful if they don’t change with the times, or let themselves decay in an innovative sense.

LG certainly had the chops, and innovate they did in many ways. The G2 was an amazing (but kind of flawed, again, more of that later) phone, the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 are still absolutely beloved to this day. The G2 brought the rear volume buttons that no one else bothered to try (and they feel great). The G3 brought the first 1440p display to consumers, and the G4 had arguably the best smartphone camera of 2015, not to mention keeping features that power users enjoyed for as long as possible (like the removable battery up until the G5, or the headphone jack, or microSD expansion).

So, the question is, where did they go wrong? They have a nice niche they could easily serve, so it would seem.

Let us enumerate the ways:

1. Quality Control

This is the big one. The one that I really think set LG on their death spiral. Up until the G4, LG was riding pretty high. The G3 was considered an awesome phone albeit with some performance issues trying to drive a 1440p panel off a pedestrian Snapdragon 801. It was still, however, considered a decent phone. LG’s phones at the time also used substandard digitizers, which if dropped and cracked, would render the screen completely nonfunctional (as my friend found out the hard way with his G2). Compare and contrast with phones from Samsung or Apple, the phone can be completely obliterated and the touch response would still be there. That isn’t even the true screw up, however…

The G Flex 2, one of LG’s innovative phones (self-healing rear cover and the first flexible display!) shipped with the Snapdragon 810, which was the much maligned Qualcomm CPU of 2015. It ran hotter than the 805 it replaced, it ran *worse* than the 805 it replaced, and was rushed out because Apple caught Qualcomm with its proverbial pants down with the A7 being a 64-bit SoC. 

The 810 mired the rep of plenty of phones, the G Flex being among them. It poked around like a Pinto and ran stupid hot, not to mention being a Sprint exclusive in the US. Thing never stood a chance.

LG made a smart-ish move and pivoted to the Snapdragon 808 with the G4, which was supposed to be a neutered 810 that didn’t run as hot. It still, however, ran extremely hot. My own G4 was borderline useless during the summer I had it due to the temperature problems.

The G4, however, would prove to be LG’s undoing. As 2015 rolled on, an elevated number of G4s started bootlooping into a completely unrecoverable state, prompting people to seek help. Their only option? Warranty it out through the carrier. LG just stayed silent. And that silence was absolutely deafening. It came to a point where carriers started offering people an out on their payment plans due to the elevated failure rate. (As at the time, the only way out was to warranty and hope your replacement phone was a good one. It usually wasn’t.)

Eventually LG was forced to respond by way of a lawsuit, and their response is that they had identified the issue and to just go through carriers for service. No directive to extend warranties, no special care to those affected by the problems, no apologies. If you were a year out from your warranty, tough luck, buy something else.

If only something had happened that could have possibly served as a learning experience so that LG could know what to do in such a situation…

Oh wait, it did. The Xbox 360.

The 360 had the very same problem. Elevated failure rates, failure to boot, bricked machines-a-plenty, you name it. Except Microsoft eventually owned their mistake. Though it may have happened two years after launch, Microsoft extended warranties for three years. LG never once did the minimum of at least extending the warranty of affected G4 customers. That extension and Microsoft’s open letter of admission is why the Xbox brand didn’t die with the 360.

LG mostly ignored the G4 clustershag, and let the carriers deal with it. Who then turned customers away because again, no warranty extensions.

Just having this happen with the G4 was bad enough, but it began affecting the V10 and G5, too.

LG did eventually address this criticism by announcing they’d use better components in the G6, and giving customers two years of warranty standard, but that required buying another LG phone. Absolutely no love for G4 or G5 owners, sorry! If you want the extended warranty you should have gotten, you have to buy a G6 to get it.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, no one took that bait.

And people still–even as LG is laid to rest–mock LG for bootloops.

All because they told people who suffered from G4 bootloops to just sit and burn if their carrier didn’t help them out.

(Compare and contrast to Samsung and the Note 7. Arguably, Samsung had way less room to be a dick about the Note 7 because it was an actual safety hazard and airlines were banning them, but there’s a reason no one really mocks Samsung over the Note 7 anymore, and that’s because their response stuck the landing very, very well. The coordination with carrier partners was also top notch. But again: It had to be. The Note 7 was a safety hazard versus a phone that just bootloops.)

Anyway, point is, LG utterly boned over most people who bought a G4, even as they were riding high from the sales of the G3 (which, as per Marques Brownlee, was their most popular phone). I know a certain other YouTuber likes to throw shade at “the techies”, but simultaneously screwing over that market AND the average smartphone consumer? Bold move. People screw up, it’s not a matter of when, but if. The tell of character comes in *how* you handle that snafu. LG utterly failed to handle it in a sufficient manner.

2. Marketing (and announcing/releasing the thing)

LG phones might be all well and good on paper even if we look past the issues presented with the G4, but what good are their phones if you can’t, y’know, actually buy them?

Availability was one of the big reasons LG utterly failed in the marketing department. In addition to–like Sony–just never really paying for advertising for their phones. For the most part, LG phones never got flashy displays in carrier stores, they never really appeared in force in advertisements, and due to lack of floor space in retailers, didn’t really get themselves out there in front of, say, Samsung.

Let’s go back to the availability problem though, because that is one of the most perplexing things in my eyes. Samsung works closely with carriers to hammer out release dates and everyone makes damn sure that there is a release date announced with the phone, or very, very soon after. LG, however…opts to “leak” their phones well in advance, host an event where they confirm everything they leaked in press releases, and at some point a few months in the future after all the hype has died off? NOW you can buy the phone!

Therefore lies the problem: Samsung announces a phone, and generally, you can get it less than a month out from announcement. You can buy the phone while the hype for it is still fresh in your head. Further, Samsung doesn’t stealth announce new features in their upcoming phones via press releases. Samsung saved everything for the actual event.

LG lets that hype fizzle out, and usually in the time frame they pick, Samsung manages to squeeze out one of their mainline phones and captures any remaining marketing hype for themselves, leaving LG to release their phone to utterly no one wanting to buy it.

Stepping back a tad (I know, I know, this is scattershot, I’m sorry), I want to touch on the press releases thing. LG had a nasty habit of namedropping upcoming phones in press releases confirming certain specs of the upcoming devices, all but “leaking” their own devices to the public. Some might think this is great, and on paper? It may well be. LG’s being transparent, trying to deflate the leakers, etc…

The problem this presents is 1. It gives LG little to talk about when they hold their events, because everything they’re announcing was already spoken about in press releases prior and covered ad nauseam by tech blogs. They can’t drum up hype if everyone already knows what’s coming, and 2. It ultimately doesn’t address the problem of availability that we just talked about. Even if we assume LG nails the announcement and announces everyone’s dream phone, they absolutely suck at making it available for people to buy until we’ve all already moved on to something else, like Samsung.

(Though this may not have been as much of an issue overseas. I’m talking about this from the US’ point of view. When it comes to dropping the ball our carriers are second to none.)

As if that wasn’t enough, either…

3. Uh, what the hell is ThinQ? (And a missive on brand value)

LG’s identity for their phones over the last few years has been very…meh at best. Though this could be a criticism levied at Samsung too, at least they got their act together for the most part. LG just leaned into it.

The G-series was a good move! It used to be called the Optimus G, but LG opted to drop the Optimus and just call it the G-series starting with the G2. But then with the G7 (and V35) LG began applying the “ThinQ” branding to their phones. People didn’t buy the name, thankfully, calling the phones by their letters and numbers, but it was still just…such an unnecessary change. It’d be like if Samsung called the Galaxy S4 the “Galaxy S4 Life Companion”. Not that such things would normally matter to mere mortals, but given that LG was already struggling to sell phones, the enthusiast audience just rolled their eyes and ultimately dismissed it as LG doing all the wrong things to try fighting for relevance.

The ThinQ name served no purpose, only to confuse people. (At best, it was a failed attempt to try parlaying their TV brand into their phones. Which wasn’t a good idea anyway.)

There’s also the issue with sub-brands too. Samsung has mostly sussed out what every letter in the Galaxy series means (like A, F, M, etc followed by a number), LG does not. LG had a few heavy hitters in the budget department (Stylo and Aristo were the more popular ones) but past that? Total mess.

Though the question has to be asked: Why buy a Stylo or an Aristo…when you could just wait a couple months for the flagships to go on deep discount? Because yes, that’s another major issue LG had: Buying an LG device at launch was a bad idea because due to LG themselves sinking prices so ridiculously low after launch, their phones depreciated very aggressively. This creates a smaller scale Osborne effect, where people don’t want to buy your device because they’re waiting for the inevitable sale that you’ve set them up to expect.

…which then means LG isn’t making as much money as they should, combined with smaller sales, and it isn’t difficult to see why LG suffered the fate that it did.

Closing thoughts

When the Xbox 360 red ring controversy was in full swing, Peter Moore was reported as telling Steve Ballmer that this is their Tylenol moment, that if they didn’t put this right, the Xbox brand was dead. The Xbox 360 warranty program–as we have seen–proved to be successful and ultimately saved the 360 from utter decimation in the console market. (The Xbox One didn’t do so hot, but not because of the RRoD controversy. That was all Don Mattrick being a dick.)

I may be misinterpreting things, but to me, the G4 was LG’s Tylenol moment, their Xbox 360 moment. Their opportunity to put right what they got wrong and restore faith in their brand. LG utterly failed that check, only deciding to make a commitment to quality with the G6, a phone two generations removed from the problematic G4 that started it all. And STILL didn’t bother doing anything for peeved G4 owners! No extended warranties, no trade in programs, nothing. You only got any of that if your carrier decided to show mercy on your poor soul.

There are many reasons why LG ultimately fizzled. I believe the G4 is what started the downward spiral and everything else was just icing on the cake, so to speak. LG let their brand take a huge reputational hit and only stopped to try fixing it once it was too late.

I agree that losing a competitor in the shrinking phone market is a shame, and it’s also a shame to see LG end on such a sour note. This is the same company that made some truly decent phones back in the day! Like the Voyager, the enV line, the Nexus 5, and many others.

Like HTC, somewhere along the way, they just lost the plot and forgot how to make great devices despite being one of the big innovators in the phone space, and arguably let a big controversy go unchecked that could well have been avoided. 

LG has no one but themselves to blame for how this ended.