Why Chinese? The screaming headline on hoardings in the capital and beyond showcasing new US smartphone maker InFocus clearly signals the beginning of an era for the Indian consumers to look beyond the high-end premium Apple to affordable and mid-segment devices from American players.
The truth is that amid 50 Chinese players and several ‘Make in India’ vendors — and not to forget market leaders Samsung and Apple — the space for a new entrant is shrinking.
But then, a novel device coupled with smart advertising and voila!, you have created the right buzz. This is what two new US smartphone makers — San Francisco-based Nextbit and Oregon-based InFocus — are doing right now.
Both companies are dependent on Taiwanese electronics contract manufacturing company Foxconn for their supplies in the Asia Pacific region.
While NextBit has “Cloud first” Android device Robin for Rs 19,999 which comes with 100 GB of free Cloud storage, InFocus has launched a bouquet of smartphones — from affordable to mid-segment range — in India.
And this is where these two US players are looking to make deeper inroads.
“We believe the only way to stand out is to be more than a phone — to be a movement that people want to be a part of. Nextbit has a style, a voice and a way of doing things that people want to be a part of and emulate,” said Nextbit’s Head of India Operations, Shankar Parasaram.
“A personality fans can relate to is the way for us to stand out, and a way for us to build life-long fans — not one-time buyers who focus on price or specs alone,” Parasaram said.
Nextbit is a startup backed by Apple, Google and HTC. Robin automatically switches to cloud storage when a user starts running out of space on the device — a first such Android device.
“We are just getting to know the Indian market, having only entered it a few months ago. We are still getting to know India better. We have done a tour already — with meet-ups in several cities — and are on our way back to do another in a week,” Parasaram added.
On the other hand, with its affordable BINGO Android series in the Rs 4,000-Rs 8,000 segment, InFocus has already created a niche space. The company has also launched Buddy, a portable notebook for Rs 14,999 that runs on Windows 10.
The truth is: The sub-Rs 7,000 segment contributes to almost 50 per cent of the total smartphone market in India and is one of the most competitive segments, driven by first-time smartphone buyers and dominated by local players.
According to Senior Analyst, Mobile Devices and Ecosystems, Counterpoint Research, Tarun Pathak, India presents a significant opportunity for all the players in the mobile ecosystem to coexist and grow at the same time.
“However, the device dynamics have been changing very fast as hardware ceases to be a differentiating factor and players need to shift their strategies to cover a wide variety of use cases as per local needs and preferences to make deeper inroads in the market,” Pathak said.
Some of the segments where original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can differentiate themselves includes vernacular support, expertise in software and services, and building a complete ecosystem through successful partnerships with other players in segments like Mobile payments, security, entertainment and hospitality, he suggested.
Can these smartphones actually give Chinese players a run for their money?
“If they want to beat Chinese smartphone makers in India, they must keep their specifications and features better within a competitive price range,” Research Director at global market consultancy firm Gartner, Vishal Tripathi said.
“If not the top-end Chinese players, they will sure take down low-end Chinese phones if they offer devices with a difference. They do have a US advantage,” Tripathi added.
According to NextBit CEO Tom Moss, Robin’s premium design and performance are a natural fit for a demanding market like India.
“Our commitment to fast OS updates and smart storage is perfect for people who constantly want more from their phone,” Moss said during the Robin launch in the capital in May.
NextBit feels that their phones will be popular with a younger generation in the country.
“The time we spend in India teaches us what the market is like and will reveal more ways for us to stand out,” Parasaram said.