Asus hasn’t conformed to following market trends for several years now. It has embraced the niche, becoming master of gaming smartphones with the ROG Phone line, producing the most versatile selfie phone on the market with the Zenfone Flip phones, and has eschewed the big-screen trend to make a compact, high performance smartphone this year with the Zenfone 8.
Yet it still sometimes feels under appreciated, and its efforts to do things differently don’t always get the attention they deserve. Why? Despite being incredibly transparent about some aspects of its phone business, it’s not at all in one of the most important — when you can actually buy one. There is a good reason though, and understanding it will help understand Asus better.
Doing things differently
Asus spokesperson ChihHao Kung explained to Digital Trends in an email about Asus’s reasoning for doing things differently with its phones:
“For our smartphones, given our relative scale and position on the market, and specifically ‘who we are’ as a smartphone brand, we think going our own way allows us to not only make more fun designs but also allows for variation and to create our own unique niche in the market. Competition is fierce and all the major players scramble to produce very similar, but good, devices. There is really no lack of choice for the end user in that specific space.”
Asus ROG Phone 5 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Asus has never been afraid to try something new in an effort to stand out. In 2012 it released the first Padfone, where a normal smartphone fitted into a special dock to become a tablet. This crazy, yet surprisingly effective gadget spawned multiple sequels. When the Padfone line ended in 2014, Asus became bogged down with multiple versions of the Zenfone, none of which were very interesting, until it released the Zenfone 6 in 2019. The Zenfone 6 and the ROG Phone 2 signified a new beginning for Asus, and it has lost none of its niche momentum since then.
Explaining why it’s different
I’m going to pull back the curtain that obscures the tech media world a little, in an effort to better illustrate how I know Asus is different, outside of its often quirky phones. When companies brief media on a new device they talk about what makes it special, the features it has, the design, and a whole lot more. Compared to most, Asus often goes a step further by often explaining why it does things.
Take the Zenfone 8 as an example. Instead of simply saying it has made a phone that’s smaller and therefore easier to hold than more common large flagship phones, Asus explained the necessity for getting the phone under 70mm wide and under 150mm tall, numbers based on research into hand size. This justification for its decisions helps us better understand why the phone is the way it is.
Asus Zenfone 8 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
It does the same with other particular hardware and specification choices too, such as the lack of wireless charging across the range — it prefers to prioritize long-term cell life, and wireless charging can negatively impact this — its choice of strong and lightweight liquid metal for the flip module on the Zenfone 7 Pro and 8 Flip, and even with the internal design of its smartphones.
Did you know the Zenfone 8 has a dual-layer PCB with interposer technology, which does away with traditional ribbons connecting the two layers, and uses 618 connector pins instead, all so it can all fit inside the compact phone body? Probably not, and while neither you or I really need to know, I love that Asus took the time to explain. What’s unfortunate is that Asus doesn’t apply this same level of transparency to its main problem of nailing down availability.
Why doesn’t it have the recognition?
Asus makes phones that stand apart from the crowd, often prices them reasonably for the performance and features on offer, and in the case of the ROG Phone leverages internal expertise and a vibrant community to build the best gaming phone available today. Why isn’t it always mentioned in the same breath as the big phone players?
Simply because it’s not a big phone player, and this plays a big part in understanding why Asus phones can get passed by. Asus phones are often hard to find for sale, especially early on in the lifecycle, and even at announcement when attention is at its highest, international release dates are either vague or non-existent.
Asus Zenfone 8 Flip Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
When a phone takes a while to reach stores near you, after the excitement of the initial launch has passed, it can quickly lose it luster. The Asus ROG Phone 5 was announced on March 21, but wasn’t available in the U.S. until May 26. Crucially this date was not provided in March, when it really needed to be, and this wasn’t unique to the ROG Phone 5. Asus risks getting forgotten in the constant melee of new device launches due to it.
We asked Kung why this is the situation:
“I agree there is a lack of information on release dates in second or third waves [he refers to launches outside Taiwan, which is usually first]. Some of this is down to local strategies but most relate to that we, as a smaller brand, do not plan to launch in every region at the same time. There are many factors at play such as regulatory differences [he also commented that regulatory approval from the FCC in the U.S. and CE in Europe take varying amounts of time, further complicating launches] and so on, all impacting an eventual launch date.”
Laptops suffer too
More people know Asus for its computers more than its smartphones. It is the sixth largest computer company in the world based on shipments, according to Gartner research, with a 5.8% market share. Apple has an 8.7% market share, and is in fourth. Sales of its gaming laptops increased by 20% during 2020, according to a DigiTimes report, and in India IDC shows Asus’s ROG laptops are the top gaming laptops in the region with 32% market share.
Hardly numbers associated with a small brand, yet according to Kung the computer division suffers from the same hinderances:
“Asus computer business is, relatively speaking, much larger than our smartphone business,” Kung said. “However if you look closer, laptop launches are much more fragmented following local release cadence and strategies.”
Digital Trends Computing Editor Luke Larson agreed, saying:
“I think that’s true — launches are often very country-specific, and that includes pricing. It feels like that’s primarily because they rely so heavily on third-party retailers. Release dates are often vague, but that’s not super uncommon in laptops.”
Transparency applies in all areas
Asus is the way it is because it’s a small phone brand. It can explore niches, take the time to explain the ins-and-outs of its decision making process, and exploit its own areas of expertise to make interesting devices that aren’t the same as the competition. However, with this comes a downside. Small phone brands don’t always have massive international reach, the same level of pull with carriers as primary brands, or the resources to churn out a million new devices to coincide with a single, global launch date.
I like Asus’s unique approach to smartphones, and its way of making them feel special by sharing minutiae of the design. But explaining why it can’t always state a wide release date, or confirm when a new phone will be released in a particular place, is as important as letting everyone know why the device itself doesn’t have wireless charging, or that the case is less than 70mm wide.
When the situation is clear, it’s much easier to be both accepting and patient, something its unusual phones really deserve.