May you live in interesting times! You may be familiar with the phrase, but not its source. It’s a loose translation of a purported Chinese curse, one that ironically denotes that ‘interesting times are full of disorder and chaos’. Well, the phrase is currently very apt for the world of mobiles.
Demonetisation is a big shock to the system. In our country, most phones under Rs 20,000 are bought in cash (just easier to buy a new phone every three months with unaccounted income). This isn’t going to be an easy recovery at all. There will be a lot of collateral damage that follows with some of the smaller Indian and Chinese brands shutting shop in the next few months. Cheap phone wars and ridiculous online discounting may disappear forever. People will change phones less frequently and look for real reasons to actually plunk down their hard-earned tax-paid money on a new toy. Hopefully, this will give time to companies to innovate and test phones properly and bring in truly radical devices with great features.
The most brutal effect of all this though, will be felt by the companies that have launched phones right around the time that massive chunk of money was converted to toilet paper. Three very different companies come to my mind.
HTC: The big bang comeback
HTC, a brand that is synonymous with state-of-the-art innovation and cutting-edge features. Until it lost momentum and went into ‘slow mode’. Well, it is back and how! Three new phones and one of them is a real standout at a very aggressive price. The HTC Desire 10 Pro is a stunner with matte finish body and gold accents. Fingerprint scanner, 5.5 inch Full HD display, whiz bang processor, 20 megapixel back camera with LED flash and laser auto focus, 13MP front camera with a 150 degree wide angle and an audio frequency adjust feature that uses submarine sonar technology to customise the sound to your ears. Usually, HTC would get the phone right and screw up the price. Not this time. It’s priced at about Rs 25,000 for a flagship. HTC seems to have understood the market and may be able to whip-off the demonetisation shroud.
Blackberry: The disaster experts
BlackBerry came out with more new phones in India and managed to make the same mistakes all over again. None of them have a keyboard, the pricing is still way off and the phones aren’t competitive with other Android phones. The only thing they have going for them is that they are the most secure phones you can buy. Unfortunately, in typical BB fashion, the launch was low-key and this one big differentiator was spoken about almost in whisper mode. With WhatsApp going into ‘won’t work on BlackBerry phones from December 31, 2016’, this was the time for BB to launch a BlackBerry Android with a classic keyboard and sell it in millions. They have managed to screw up royally once again! Demonetisation will hit BB harder than ever before.
Vivo: The anomaly agents
A phone with a front camera that has a better sensor than the one at the back? A Vivo phone that is priced at around Rs 18,000? An expensive phone that comes with a plastic body and not even a full HD screen? Yes, the Vivo V5 has all these anomalies and more. Its main USP is a 20-megapixel front camera with a LED flash that has been rebadged as a ‘Moonlight Dew Flash’. In a world where selfies, and now, video calls rule the roost, this is a great move. The back camera is 13-MP and not a very good one. The strange thing is the price. Vivo is an economy and budget brand, Oppo plays the field in the medium range while OnePlus hits out at the higher levels. Many don’t know that all three brands are basically owned by BBK Electronics. And for them to get a Vivo take on Oppo and OnePlus with a very mediocre phone is strange. Watch this Vivo phone tank under the demonetisation onslaught.
Many more launches are planned in the coming weeks. It’s time to review phones based on features, form factor, hardware and the demonetisation effect. The DM factor will determine the success or failure of a phone for the next six months.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, December 4
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