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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

A slice of Apple, with a twist

The new Obi Worldphone will give you the experience of an iPhone for much cheaper, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Sep 09, 2015 11:22 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

The headline for this column may have you surprised. The most iconic company in the world of technology, one that makes the most high-end gadgets and phones and guards the price line with brute force – has actually made an economy smartphone? Apple and ‘economy’ in the same sentence is a complete oxymoron, right?

Well, you are right and wrong. Yes, Apple would never make an economy phone and yes, they just did! In a manner of speaking.

This is a story that is both intriguing and captivating. There are lots of players, lots of interesting characters and a plotline that has many ups and down. So pay attention. Let us meet the characters first.

Apple's own

The former CEO of Apple, John Sculley, who fired Steve Jobs from his own company and, at one point won the cola wars as the global CEO of Pepsi, comes first.

Character number two, Robert Brunner, was head of design at Apple. He designed the PowerBook, the Newton messaging device, the Twentieth Anniversary Mac and pretty much everything else. He also hired and trained Sir Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple and the designer of the first (and every subsequent) iPhone. Brunner has also designed iconic products such as the Beats Headphones.

The second coming: Former Apple CEO John Sculley (centre), who fired Steve Jobs from his own company, is driving the launch of the Obi Worldphone series.

Now, let’s introduce a true maverick into the game. Satjiv Chahil, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Apple, who set up some of its biggest endorsement deals across the world (with people such as Peter Gabriel, Claudia Schiffer and Vivienne Tam), returns to the game with Sculley and Brunner. So, what did these three do when they got back together? They created a world phone. They’ve made a phone that Apple would have made, if it ever made an economy phone. One for the world

This is the Obi Worldphone and it was announced at a glittering event in San Francisco. The idea is simple. In a cut-throat mid and economy smartphone market, every phone looks the same, has almost identical specs and hardware and has, in essence, become a commodity.

The three former Apple bigwigs decided to cut through the clutter with a phone that is designed from used materials, but with specs that were equivalent to a top-of-the-line $700 flagship phone. The larger idea was world domination. This wasn’t a phone for one country or two. This was a phone that would be launched in 70 countries.

In theory and as stories go, this is a good one. Unfortunately, the world of technology has this habit of taking real good tales and turning them into a horror stories. Good intentions, great dreams, incredible talent and respectable legacies are all very well, but it’ll come down to the actual product. So, let’s take a look at the Obi Worldphone SF1 and see if this one can actually achieve all its very lofty goals.

San Francisco 1
The SF (San Francisco) 1 starts off well. It’s a 4G LTE phone with a unibody shell, metallic highlights and a raised, full-HD 1920x1080p floating glass display. In design, it is a winner. It also has Corning Gorilla Glass 4, Android 5.0.2 Lollipop with the added Obi Lifespeed UI, 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm processor and an add-on microSD card slot.

Optics are boosted with a 13MP autofocus camera with a Sony Exmor sensor, a 5MP front camera with LED flash, 3000mAh battery, dual mic for noise cancellation, Dolby Audio Surround 7.1 and Quick Charge 1.0 for fast charging. So, it does seem to have achieved its objective. It’s a clutter-breaking design and has heavy-duty specs at a price of about $200.

But this is where the story takes an even more intriguing turn. While it may well be sold in 70 countries, the real make-or-break test for any smartphone is right here on our shores. India and China will determine whether the Obi Worldphone will actually dominate the world.

Playing with the big boys this phone gets launched in India (rumours suggest it should be here by October), it will take on some serious contenders with the same price point.

These include the Lenovo K2 Note (already considered the best in its class), Xiaomi with its Mi series which has multiple contenders, the Asus Zenphone which also has models that rule the market, Motorola (with its unbeatable next generation, G), and Micromax’s Yu.

Apart from these, Coolpad is a new aggressive player, Gionee has a new trick up its sleeve, and half a dozen other Chinese giants are taking the game to new heights.

Within a market this brutal, can the Obi Worldphone achieve a breakthrough? Well, the former Apple Army of Sculley, Brunner and Chahil seems to think so.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, September 6

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First Published: Sep 04, 2015 22:13 IST