All hail the variants

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: May 21, 2014

It was starting to look like we might actually be slowing down on phone releases as we crept further into 2014, but apparently that was just a ruse. We saw plenty of devices find their way onto the market in 2013, and while it was nearly not as many as we've seen in the past, there were still quite a bit. And now, as we find our way inching closer to the middle part of the year, we seem to be right on the brink of another breakout situation.

Just looking through the stream of rumors sent out of the Rumor Mill lately shows us that companies like HTC, Samsung, and even Motorola have fired up all of the necessary gears to get a bunch of phones released in a year's span. Those companies have actually already got the ball rolling, thanks to devices like the One M8, the Galaxy S5, and the Moto E. They all serve a purpose, and yet they're just the initial shot across the deck.

When we look at the aforementioned companies, it's kind of scary to think that it's Motorola that might come out with the fewest devices this year, and they'll still probably launch three different handsets. We've got a successor to the Moto X inbound, and then there's the sure-as-rain Moto G follow-up coming down the pipe sometime later this year, too. While the E, G and X all stand out in their own way, I consider both the E and G models to be just variants of the X, designed to situate themselves in specific niche markets. Just like any other variant of a device.

Then we've got HTC and Samsung.

The former is really only the beginning of the potential flood we see in 2014. With the One M8 already out there in the wild, we've been hearing rumors about variants for quite some time now. We've already seen the One mini 2 launch, which while technically a sequel to the One mini launched last year, it's casing is definitely more One M8 than One mini, so I'm counting it as a variant.

Next, we've got the unofficial devices. As of this writing, there's the One M8 Prime, a new flagship to stand out against the One M8, and now the One M8 Ace. They've got some key differentiators, obviously, but for the most part we're still looking at minor tweaks to the released M8 formula. And those are probably not the end of it. We could very well see a One M8 max, too, near the end of the year.

In the same unofficial category is what's supposedly coming down the pipe from Samsung. They've already got the Galaxy S5 out there in the wild, so that's a good start. They released the Galaxy K Zoom not too long ago, and I'm only including this device because I'm impressed that it isn't a variant. It's a true sequel to the Galaxy S4 Zoom of last year. So, that's something.

However, Samsung is definitely getting on the variant train, and they'll probably have a front row seat. To add to the mix, they've got their own Prime device rumored to be landing in stores sooner, rather than later, with the Galaxy S5 Prime. Add to the mix the Galaxy S5 Active, and you're starting to see a growing list. With the particular styling that the Galaxy S5 has, any variants that do manage to find their way onto the market will certainly stand out. Whether that's a good or bad thing will be completely up to you.

The truth is, I think this is something that we're just going to have to get used to. Earlier this week my fellow Editor Anna suggested that Samsung needs to whittle down their selection, and just launch one amazing device instead of so many other variants. It's not just Samsung that could, potentially, benefit from this way of thinking, as there are a lot of other companies that ship a lot of devices. A one-phone-a-year mentality, or maybe two with a high-end and a mid-range/cheaper model to boot, could really work.

That's just not what's going to happen, though, it looks like. Finding the perfect device for everyone isn't possible, so the best possible recourse is releasing a specific device for specific niche markets. You want a device that can take a beating, maybe even survive a few bounces across the pavement? Well then, you've got yourself the Galaxy S5 Active to whet your appetite. Want a device with a ridiculously nice display, and even better internals than what we've already seen this year? The One M8 Prime will probably be perfect for you.

This means that people are going to have to slow down on the early adopting mentality, though, because otherwise we're still going to get a lot of angry consumers out there when companies release a better phone than the one they just bought. Of course, that's never not going to happen, but you get the idea.

We may have almost missed the tide for a wave of phones every year, but it looks like it's just going to come back 'round again. In 2014 we could very well see a lot of devices launch, many of which are just slight tweaks to what was launched just a few months before. Are you looking forward to that future? Let me know!