Mythology credits Sears Roebuck for the “good, better, best” marketing strategy.
General Motors followed with multiple car brands of different status. You might recall the scandal in the 1980s of Cadillacs with Chevrolet engines. All the brands used common parts.
The electronics industry follows this template, from smartphones to big-screen TVs. Often, different models contain identical internal parts differentiated only by cosmetics. Others change mostly inconsequential circuits to add or subtract a feature.
For example, a manufacturer encases a premium smartphone entirely in the latest version of Gorilla Glass while its less-expensive sibling might be the same phone with a plastic back.
Samsung owns a near monopoly in OLED phone displays. But when it comes to TVs, LG monopolizes the OLED display category.
Chinese manufacturers are eager to break this Korean quasi-cartel. Sony makes the camera modules for most premium smartphones. Harman International manufactures the internal components of most car audio systems, regardless of the name on the dashboard.
Innovative companies perfect a technology, learn to manufacture it at a competitive price and become dominant in the market.
A specific component or module doesn’t always indicate performance.
Sony offers different grades of camera modules. Smartphone companies use one of Sony’s camera modules but process photos and videos through their own proprietary circuits to tweak the quality.
Thus, Google’s Pixel phones might not use the best module Sony offers but use superb processing circuitry to deliver excellent photo quality.
Similarly, Sony charges almost $1,000 more for its 65-inch OLED TVs than the retail for a comparable LG premium “C-class” model. Sony uses the same LG-made OLED display panels as the LG but designed superior circuitry to drive the panels.
Critics argue whether Sony’s subtle improvements justify the substantial cost difference.
Sony earned a reputation for the best TVs with its Trinitron design back in the 1970s and relies on that reputation today.
Strangely, Sony actually introduced the first OLED TV made with its own OLED panel over a decade ago but decided the technology cost too much to profitably manufacture.
LG figured out a cost-effective process and then achieved profitability by supplying other companies, thus achieving cost reductions from mass production.
Initially, production proved so difficult that many panels ended up in the recycling bin rather than a finished TV.
RCA bamboozled the press when it introduced its ProScan line of TVs in the late 1980s. These were supposed to be RCA’s “Sony killers,” but internally, they were largely similar to regular RCA TVs.
ProScan TVs included a few more features and distinctive cosmetics, but you’d have to stare long and hard to notice a difference in picture quality. ProScan failed to save RCA.
Most of us desire to own the “best” of something. Keep in mind when shopping that the “best” may be wishful thinking or the placebo effect.
Amazon emulates the oil industry. Just like your local gas station, prices change moment by moment.
Not long ago, the price of electronics only varied when the manufacturer offered retailers a price reduction and/or when discontinuing a model.
Amazon prices change by the minute, sometimes by dimes, sometimes by dollars. Amazon tracks you, keeping a record of what interests you. If you view a certain product repeatedly, Amazon may entice you with a brief, sudden price reduction.
For example, I decided I wanted the highly-rated Logitech Brio webcam with a list price of $199.95. During the course of three days, the price on Amazon ranged from $170 to $190, changing almost minute by minute.
Sometimes the seller was Amazon itself; other times third-party merchants. Even if you put it in your cart and returned later, the price changed.
Generally, it pays not to buy big-ticket items right away. I finally paid $174. Then again, it pays to buy big-ticket items from a locally-owned merchant who needs your business.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.