Indian Smartphone market has evolved at a very fast pace, and if you have been keeping tabs, things are vastly different from what they used to be some 2 to 3 years ago. The case in point being domestic manufacturers who are struggling to keep their heads above water. Now, a multiple forces are a play that share the responsibility for shaping up the market as is, but the question we must be asking is, will it ever be possible for the Indian smartphone brands to regain lost ground?
The ordeal domestic brands like Micromax, Lava, Karbonn, Xolo, etc. are going through are, in our opinion, largely because of the key aspects they neglected in their hay days. When the first wave of Chinese intrusion hit India, the likes of Moto and Xiaomi grabbed all the headlines but domestic vendors were largely unperturbed.
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The measly stock of 10 to 15 thousand units that Xiaomi was retailing in its flash sales was what they could retail every hour due to their strong hold over the offline market. After all, the likes of Xiaomi and Coolpad had only encroached on their online territory which wasn’t much of a setback. Back then, they could have fortified their walls by improving their service quality or perhaps by investing in design and R&D. Sure they had the resources. Micromax, who has been on a comeback spree since about a year now, was then counted in the top 10 smartphone vendors in the world.
Back then, they could have fortified their walls by improving their service quality or perhaps by investing in design and R&D. Sure they had the resources. Micromax, who has been on a comeback spree since about a year now, was then counted in the top 10 smartphone vendors in the world!
Little did they know that the next wave of offline players like Oppo, Vivo, and Gionee would completely topple them head over heels. A couple of years later, people don’t look down upon Chinese brands disparagingly and are associating with superior quality over domestic branded product. The likes of Oppo and Vivo have enough manufacturing and marketing muscle to challenge even tier-1 brand and seem truly insurmountable.
How then do you expect Domestic manufacturers to revive?
Well, the fierce nature of the market doesn’t leave much room for path correction. Once the free fall starts, there is very little that you can cling to for stability.
Behemoths like Nokia and BlackBerry couldn’t recapture their glory days even after investing a lot of money and effort. The likes of Sony and HTC are losing market share night and day and in spite of significant brand value, consumers just refuse to see them on the same pedestal as the established players like Samsung and Apple.
Motorola made a successful comeback, and so will Nokia (in all likelihood), but both of these companies were literally sold dead and had to make a fresh start from ground zero under new leadership and with a new vision.
Has anyone in the smartphone world ever made a comeback? Well, sort of
A few years back, critics had started writing off Samsung too. This was when the South Korean giant launched Samsung Galaxy S5 that, in spite of being a good phone, didn’t live up to the hype or consumer expectations. The only innovative addition to an otherwise generic plastic phone was a heart rate sensor, which apparently was as good as any other LED flash (there were apps to prove its futility).
The world was transitioning from removable battery phones to metal unibody design then, and Samsung was the one still clinging to plastic phones with removable batteries and SD card support.
The TouchWiz was widely criticized for being unnecessarily heavy, slow on updates and magnanimously bloated (there were 5 to 6 pages in the app drawer on first boot!). The Galaxy S5 also felt far behind Apple’s offerings in terms of camera performance.
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Not only its plastic flagship, but all other J-series phones looked almost similar and hideous. While the likes of Apple and HTC were killing it in the premium segment, budget players like Xiaomi and Lenovo were giving it a very stiff competition in the budget realms.
Samsung phones just didn’t feel inspiring enough across all budgets and were largely thought of as imperfect devices leveraging tier-1 branding. Everyone condemned Samsung’s pricing as ridiculous (same as what we hear of HTC and Sony today) and it was opined that the company needs to reduce prices and compete in the mid-budget range (again, what’s often suggested that HTC and Sony should be doing).
But then, the company took some bold steps and redefined its ethos. The removable battery and plastic were abolished and the company put forth stunning Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge that established beyond doubt, before it was too late, that Samsung could indeed deliver class leading premium flagship experience. The S6 and S6 Edge offered revolutionary 2K AMOLED panels, magnificent design and a camera that made iPhone 5s camera look cheap. Samsung was back at the top!
Having set things right at the high end, Samsung then corrected course and gradually revamped its entire product portfolio.
Another revival story is of Nexus!
I distinctly remember editorials explaining why Google should ditch Nexus program for good. The Nexus 6 had too many issues and just didn’t seem to warrant the high-end price. That year, even Motorola managed to deliver faster updates than Google itself.
But, next year, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X once again demonstrated why the world needs Google to continue making phones. The Nexus 6P had a wonderful camera and also helped Huawei gain global recognition. Later next year, Google made further improvements and managed to successfully retail its Pixel phones at ultra premium price point.
and that brings us to..
Can Micromax make a comeback?
Arguably, Micromax was never in the same league as Samsung or Nexus, but the company too has been trying trajectory correction maneuvers for over a year now. The problem, however, is that it’s largely playing by the same rules.
Unlike the other revivals that we just discussed, Micromax has nothing revolutionary or fresh to offer so far.
Its new flagship phone, the Canvas Dual 5, fits the bill to an extent, but the fact that its a re-branded Qiku phone weighs heavily on the company’s credibility, especially since it obliterates their initial marketing campaign that pitched it as a product that Micromax had been working on, apart from other things, during its hiatus that extended for the most part of last year.
The subsequent Evok series phones that pose as value for money online alternatives again feel lackluster. We can see that a company can comfortably market a product with less than perfect specs offline, but online buyers are quite sensitive and the least you can do to make big noise online is to offer best in class hardware specifications.
In other attempts, the domestic manufacturer has also been trying to cash in on nostalgia by branding its phones after iconic yesteryear Micromax devices. The new Canvas 2 is already official and a Yureka rehash is also on its way. That simply isn’t how the market operates today.
The Canvas 2 (2017) or other new, affordable phones from domestic manufacturer simply don’t feel like a change of pace. The hardware or the software isn’t anything to be excited about. It feels as if Micromax is simply pushing old wine in a
new old bottle.
Mere marketing claims won’t suffice. What they need is, perhaps, a truly ingenious and competent product that actually looks good. Maybe even focusing on just one premium no-nonsense flagship (say, like the OnePlus 3) with simple, pure stock android. Then, it might not matter much even if the pricing is a tad steep. Micromax desperately needs a new avatar, something more radical and a lot more meaningful than its half-baked “13-phone-launch-in-a-day” stunt that it tried to pull off last year.
But in the face of existing competition that refuses to slow down, this shall certainly prove to be a daunting task. It will need a bucket load of ‘nuts, guts, and glory’!