After 12 years of being an Android OEM, LG has had enough. The Korean company announced late last night that it is officially quitting the smartphone market; it plans to close up shop on the entire business by July 31, 2021.
The news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since LG has been preparing the public for this decision for some time. LG’s mobile division has had 23 consecutive money-losing quarters, and its last profitable year was in 2014. In January 2020, LG Electronics’ then-brand-new CEO Kwon Bong-seok promised that the troublesome division would be profitable by 2021. That message was apparently “profitability or bust” because by January 2021, LG was warning the public that it would have to make “a cold judgment” about the future of the mobile division. Local media reports claim that LG explored selling the division but couldn’t find a buyer.
It’s not clear what will happen to what feels like “LG’s last smartphone,” the LG Rollable. The flexible-display smartphone was announced at CES 2021, and while the expanding display mechanism was identical to concepts and prototypes from other companies, LG promised that the phone would actually launch in “early 2021.” LG’s press release did not disclose what will happen to the Rollable, but rumors saying the phone might be canceled started circulating almost immediately after it was announced. We won’t hold our breath.
A decade of also-rans, gimmicks, and dead devices
LG’s phones were never good. The company ping-ponged between building exactly what Samsung was building—but with less marketing and brand recognition—and building wildly unappealing gimmick phones with no rationale behind them. Who could forget stinkers like the LG G Flex in 2013, which used flexible display technology to create a curved phone. The entire body was shaped like a banana for no reason at all. LG repeated this mistake in 2015 with the LG G Flex 2—again, for no discernible reason. The LG V10 in 2015 had a tiny extra display above the main display, so you could see icons or the time (so, just like the main display?). The LG G5 in 2016 had a removable bottom that enabled a modular accessory ecosystem. You could replace the battery, snap on a camera grip with a shutter button, or attach a new audio DAC for better headphone sound. The 2019 “LG V50 ThinQ 5G” had an attachable second screen. The LG Wing in 2020 was a T-shaped smartphone, where the main screen could turn sideways to reveal another, smaller screen underneath.
When LG wasn’t putting out ridiculous phone designs, the company’s more normal phones could never answer the question of “why would I buy this instead of a Samsung phone?” LG and Samsung both pumped out heavily skinned Android phones with the latest specs, but if the phones were both nearly identical, there was no reason not to buy the Samsung phone, which had way more sales and marketing muscle behind it. LG’s biggest contributions to the market, if you want to be really generous, were in making the first 1440p smartphone (the LG G3) and the first extra wide-angle camera (the LG G5). Both demonstrate LG’s typical inability to come up with a killer smartphone feature. Neither feature was a solid enough reason to buy an LG smartphone.
Even when people did choose an LG phone, LG did its best to make sure they would never be LG customers again. For years, the company produced defective smartphones that died early due to poor build quality. Faulty soldering on the phone motherboards would cause the phone memory to disconnect, and the phones would be unable to successfully boot. After years of complaints, the company’s shoddy craftsmanship earned it a series of class-action “boot loop” lawsuits covering the G4, V10, G5, V20, and Nexus 5X. Even if your LG phone didn’t die an early death, you were probably mad at the company for its atrocious Android update support, which often resulted in nine-month wait times for updates. The company even once claimed to launch the “LG Software Upgrade Center” to try to repair its awful update image, which resulted in absolutely no changes and quickly became the butt of community jokes.
The company’s most critically successful devices were its collaborations with Google through the Nexus program, but even then, many of those phones (even if they weren’t included in the lawsuit) ended up dying an early death due to LG’s boot-loop fiasco and other poor workmanship issues that led to an early death. LG got co-branding on the Nexus 4, (2012), Nexus 5 (2013), and Nexus 5X (2015) for Google, along with anonymous manufacturer work on the Pixel 2 XL.
LG will leave a sizable void in the pre-paid and mid-range shovelware market, which accounted for most of the 10 percent market share it had in the US. This will probably be quickly gobbled up by Samsung or a Chinese OEM.
LG joins Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola, Essential, Facebook, Amazon, Mozilla, Microsoft, Acer, Palm, Panasonic, Toshiba, HP, LeEco, Nextbit, Dell, Gigabyte, Ericsson, and many others in the pile of companies that couldn’t cut it in the smartphone market. RIP.