It might be the era of high-flying smartphones, but there’s a quiet, homebred competition brewing for the Apple’s, Sony’s and Samsung’s of the world in one of the fastest-growing smartphone markets globally.
A bunch of relatively lesser known Indian handset makers — Hyve, Creo, Smartron, Ziox — have burgeoned in the last eight months, and are looking to change the way the middle-class Indian buys a mobile phone.
However, this is not the first time that Indian companies have tried to stand up against the influx of global brands. Between 2007 and 2008, Micromax, Lava, Karbonn and Intex came up as strong rivals to global biggies, including Nokia and Samsung.
Though smartphone world leader Samsung remained at the top in the country with a 22.8% market share during the April-June quarter of 2016, according to Hong Kong-based research firm Counterpoint, the next four largest phone brands were home-grown. Sample this. In the past nine years, 33 Indian mobile handset companies have come up, 22 of which makes smartphones. Almost a quarter of them have been born in the past eight months to lure consumers through new features in their handsets. That takes the number of cellphone brands in the country to 164.
DIALLING IT RIGHT?
One out of every 20 cellphones is damaged when water enters the device. So Hyve Mobiles, a brainchild of former Apple executive Sharad Mehrotra, launched a waterproof mobile phone for ₹15,000, to compete with Sony’s range of waterproof phones starting at ₹39,000.
Mehrotra, along with his business associates Aditya Agarwal and Abhishek Agarwal, want to make Android phones that can offer the Apple reliability, and have good technology and features.
If an Android phone could boast of superior after-sales service, customer delight and quality solutions, it would have the best of both the worlds, says Mehrotra, who wants to turn the Android user into a brand loyalist, just like Apple fans. “Apple has an exceptional aftersales service, which we want to replicate for Android,” he adds. Mehrotra is targeting an 8% market share in three years, and 15% by 2021. Hyve will launch three more cellphones in the next 10 months.
Bangalore-based Creo launched its first smartphone, Mark 1, in April, with free automated voice mailing, a feature which is currently billed by operators. Grapevine has it that Google will launch the feature in its next Android operating system Nougat.
The phone also has a unique anti-theft feature, which identifies location and the mobile number, even if the SIM changes. But unlike Hyve, the company will not launch new handsets, but add more features to its operating system (OS) every month. So every time you go in for a software update, the new features will get added automatically.
“The user can experience his phone in a new way… 80% of our buyers update their cell phones,” says Sai Srinivas Kiran G, co-founder of Creo.
There’s also a feature that helps reduce dialing time, as the OS preempts actions based on usage. Eventually, Srinivas wants to sell its operating system (OS) to other phone brands. At least, it will try.
Then there’s Smartron India, which is betting on the internet of things, where everyday objects will stay connected to the internet. So, for any smart appliance, be it your smart air conditioner, smart television or smart refrigerator, the phone will act as the remote.
Deepak Kabu, CEO of Ziox Mobiles, a nine-month-old company, wants to put smartphones, priced between ₹3,000 and ₹7,000, in the hands of the first-time phone user. “Our strategy is to compete with rivals in the same price range by building good products and an efficient after-sales service,” says Kabu.
Namotel Achche Din, which takes its name from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his election campaign “achche din aayenge”, has priced its phone at ₹99. A Docoss smartphone will cost you ₹888.
And of course, who can forget Ringing Bells, the company which came in the eye of the storm after announcing the ₹251 smartphone.
A SMART CALL, REALLY?
The aim is a smartphone for every Indian. Throw in the Make in India campaign, the tax benefits offered by the government, the newbies’ zeal can turn India into a mobile manufacturing powerhouse. According to research firm IDC, every second smartphone shipped in the last three months of 2015 was manufactured locally. “Nearly 50 smartphone makers are relocating from China to India,” says Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog. But not everyone is hopeful. “In two to three years, all of them will fizzle out and no more than five players will take control of the market,” says Hari Om Rai, chairman of Lava Mobiles.
(additional reporting by Timsy Jaipuria)