And they’re off!

And they’re off!

After a particularly wet and miserable winter it’s a relief to finally see some tell-tale signs of spring in the air. Blossom fills the trees, the work commute is increasingly sunnier, and the mobile manufacturers have come out of hibernation for the flagship season.

HTC sprinted out of the blocks last week with the unveiling and subsequent stocking of its new beautiful, but curiously named, One (M8). Despite the leaks that are becoming ever more predictable in the weeks ahead of a big launch, the general consensus was that this smartphone is one to cherish, and it lays down the marker for its competitors.

The Taiwanese manufacturer lurked in the shadows somewhat at Mobile World Congress last month, launching two solid mid-range devices, while Samsung and Sony revealed a suite of products, capped off with a flagship each and smartwatches aplenty. At the time it felt like HTC had conceded the initiative, however, its trump card was the speed, and apparent ease, in the way it has stocked partners after the M8’s initial presentation.

Sales figures are naturally impossible to come by so early on, but the common response from operators and retailers has been one of positivity. It all seems very un-HTC considering the distribution issues that marred its One launch 12 months ago, and the smooth nature this time around coupled with the quality of the handset will make competitors wary of a better prepared adversary.

Samsung, however, will be confident as it counts down to the Galaxy S5 hitting the market. Although the M8 was greeted with much fanfare, the Korean smartphone maker is still the one to beat, and considering the copious amount of pre-orders reported by some retailers, remains the favourite to win the flagship war.

The unveiling of the latest incarnation of the Galaxy family in Barcelona was typical of its focus on extravagant, and incredibly effective, marketing. Samsung has earned the right to be considered among the top brands in the world, and although the M8 or Sony’s Z2 offering may be devices for the purists, Samsung’s name and reputation give it a distinct advantage, not to mention a sizable marketing warchest.

Sony appears to be on the back foot at this stage in spite of a strong showing at MWC. Its Z2 launch is likely to be pushed back until the end of April, after both the M8 and Galaxy S5. But it does have some advantages. The Japanese firm propelled itself to third position in market share terms in the UK in 2013, and also has a substantial marketing budget, as well as sponsorship of this year’s World Cup in Brazil. Its devices are of genuine premium quality, so Sony is not to be underestimated.

All that remains is for Apple to reveal its hand, but for the time being Samsung, HTC and Sony will battle it out for flagship supremacy in the season of fresh starts.

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