When Farsheed Daruwalla, a Mumbai-based homeopath practitioner, went shopping for a handset he was clear about “a big battery handset”. He says, “I have had branded handsets and with each new feature built in them [music playback, video recording, radio, 3D camera and so on], the battery takes a big hit making it necessary to carry a charger everywhere I go. That’s difficult for me since I visit two to three clinics every day for my work.”
Daruwalla then switched from a Sony Ericsson handset to a Maxx mobile that comes with a bigger battery back-up and yet costs Rs 7,000. The 51-year-old adds that the Maxx handset also comes equipped with noise suppression feature that curtails the background chaos giving the caller a noise-free conversation. “It’s not only less than what I paid for a fancy handset that promised fancy features that just drains the battery. Why don’t bigger brands learn from them?” Daruwalla says.
Reactions like these is what Ajjay Agarwal, chairman and managing director, Maxx Mobiles, hoped for when they decided to build features specific to user demands. The company is, in fact, fine-tuning its focus to equip longer-lasting batteries in its handsets this year. “To meet the demand for a long battery-life, thereby increasing the talk-time, we launched the Big Battery series that is equipped with batteries that have a higher capacity. The response for the Big Battery range from tier-2 and tier-3 cities and especially the youth has been excellent and we will continue to develop products under this range,” Agarwal says.
Maxx, claims Agarwal, will be the first company to follow a backward integration strategy and start manufacturing Li-ion cells in India that will help make their mobile phones more energy-efficient and powerful. He says, “We realised there is a need for Big Battery phones due to uneven power supply in many smaller cities and towns in India. The models under this category come with at least 1500 mAh batteries that provide longer talk time.”
The reason Indian manufacturers like Maxx, Micromax, Lava and Intex, among others, are bullish is their firm belief in India’s insatiable demand for mobile handsets. Mobile handset sales in India, the world’s second-biggest wireless services market, is projected to grow at an annual 8.5 per cent and reach 231 million units in 2012, notes technology researcher Gartner. India, which accounts for approximately 12 per cent of worldwide sales, is a critical market for device manufacturers.
“The entry of Indian mobile handset players focusing on low-end, value conscious consumers has intensified competition in the Indian mobile device market. The average selling price (ASP) of a mobile device is approximately $45, with 75 per cent of devices sold costing below $75,” notes Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. The research firm lists G’five, Karbonn Mobile and Micromax at third, fourth and fifth positions after Nokia and Samsung.
Low-cost handsets, designed to address specific user needs have helped college students like Peeyush Mallani switch loyalties to brands like Micromax. “I needed a handset that would support Bluetooth headset since its painful to manage wired headsets dangling from your ears while travelling in Mumbai local trains,” reasons Mallani, a hotel management student. While he was sceptical to switch to a dual SIM phone from Micromax, what sealed the deal for him was that the Bluetooth headset is dockable inside the Micromax X450 VanGogh handset. He adds, “It has self-charge capacity and the best part is that I don’t have to bother stashing the headset after every use since it goes right into the body of the device.”
Rahul Sharma, executive director of Micromax, says innovation is converting user demands into handset features. “When users were complaining of poor battery, we came out with bigger battery handsets. Multiple SIM holders needed dual SIM devices and we delivered those. Now, users want to upgrade to affordable smartphones and we are getting ready to launch these in 2012,” he says.
Micromax seems to be on the right track. According to Gartner data, smartphone sales in India made up six per cent of the total device sales in the first three quarters of 2011, and this share is expected to increase to eight per cent in 2012. Sharma says, “We broke price barriers when we launched Android smartphones at below Rs 10,000 price, and now we are set to launch sub Rs 5,000 smartphones with pre-bundled data and apps.” The company is bullish about apps like health care on its devices that would connect the users in tier-2 and tier-3 towns with medical service providers across the country at a nominal fee.
With the growing influence of local handset players in the low-end segment, the traditionally stronger, big global players have had their positions weakened, point analysts. Players like Karbonn Mobiles, Intex and Lava are eager to capitalise with features targeted specifically at multimedia users in 2012.
Shashin Devsare, executive director, Karbonn Mobiles, says, “We are looking at 3D user interfaces, 3D video record & play, high speed processors (greater than 1GHz) for smartphones. We will also look at text to speech, speech to text, single interface for multiple instant messengers and social networking portals for feature phones.” With 10 million handsets in FY 2011-12, Karbonn is now aiming to double it to 20 million handsets in FY 2012-13. The handset vendor is focusing on creating a mobile ecosystem that includes an App Store, embedded apps, trendy user interfaces on its smartphones. The company is also getting ready to launch tablet PCs. “We will go for hardware specifications like fast speed processors, high resolution capacitive screens bundled with latest operating software versions,” Devsare says.
S N Rai, co-founder and director of Lava Mobiles, is eyeing value growth in 2012. The entire product strategy, he emphasises, is to build a formidable smartphone portfolio. “We are launching smartphones across price range. The idea is to concentrate on high speed chipsets (up to 1.8 GHz), integrate multimedia facility and PDF reading facility,” says Rai. By 2014, he aspires to have a double-digit market share, which currently stands around 4.7 per cent. Lava is hoping to net business users and enterprise segment this year.
Sanjay Kalirona, GM (Mobile Business), Intex Technologies, is planning to launch phones in various categories ranging from touchscreen phones (Sense series) to Android-powered devices with bigger screens and powerful batteries. “Application-rich phones are in trend now, and we plan to give our customers mobile phones loaded with an array of apps,” he shares. Intex, which already has its own app store with free apps, believes that this could be its advantage in the cluttered Android market. Intex, which sold approximately 2 million handsets in 2011, is now looking to sell more than 3 million sets in 2012. The company that had been focusing on entry-level devices in tier-2 and tier-3 towns and rural markets is set to break in to the high-end Android smartphones this year.
With smartphones becoming tools of reverse innovation in markets like India, local vendors agree that affordable mobile computing will be the key for success. Global brands like Nokia, Research in Motion, Samsung, Apple spend billions of dollars in research and development and it is no hidden fact that overall performance of these companies is directly related to their R&D investments. But local vendors add that innovating on grassroot features (battery to screen size, affordable price points to free content) is the key to their success in India.