The Smartphone Game

How Indian smartphone companies are taking on global giants in one of the world’s fastest growing markets

Written by Pranay Parab | New Delhi | Published on:July 28, 2013 11:52 pm

How Indian smartphone companies are taking on global giants in one of the world’s fastest growing markets

She turns a corner and into a hail of medium-range gunfire. The trees sway with the wind,a bird hoots ominously. It’s an ambush. One look at the commando unit and she ducks,crawls into a ditch and shoots 10 rounds of ammo. Silence. Then cheers as the game ends and Chetna Prasad’s friends crowd around her,desperate to wrest her smartphone. Sleek and glossy,like a sports car,Prasad says it performs like one. Her life as a trainee telecaller in Bangalore cuts her no slack,and she refuses to allow her phone any. “I can switch from a 3D game to an HD video to voice chat,and the phone can handle it; it runs smooth as butter,” says the 21-year-old. Two months ago,when Prasad switched her Samsung Galaxy SIII,the phone that set the standard for the Android market,for an Indian handset that cost half as much,she was prepared to be disappointed. Instead,Canvas HD,one of the most successful smartphones from the Gurgaon-based Micromax Informatics,was everything she wanted. “I passed on the SIII to my brother and bought the Canvas HD as a compromise. But it has turned out to be just as good,” says Prasad.

This is the story of how Indian smartphones are getting “just as good” as high-end phones made by multinationals Samsung,Motorola,Sony and HTC. Low-cost and pumped with features,they are riding a giant wave that will soon see India become the third-largest smartphone market,with a 10 per cent chunk of the global sales. Already,Indian companies control 30 per cent of the smartphone sales in the country — a huge jump from about three per cent a year ago,says a report published in June by market research firm International Data Corporation. Micromax and Karbonn,the two top players,may have got this far by making sub-Rs 10,000 smartphones,but they are now ready to raid Samsung’s fanboy bastion with phones “inspired” by the pricey Galaxy SIV.

“We offer five-star food at fast food prices,” is how Biju Menon,sales head at Karbonn,India’s second largest smartphone company,puts it. The Karbonn office in Bangalore,located in a small lane in Indira Nagar,is brimming with cardboard boxes — a common sight ahead of a launch. The company,which closed the financial year with a turnover of Rs 2,400 crore,has announced the release of its new flagship device,the Karbonn Titanium S9,priced at Rs 19,990. “We are confident of selling at least 30,000 units of the S9 every month,” Menon says.

A year and a half ago,Karbonn didn’t think it could sell a device priced above Rs 5,000. As the market matured,the company invested in brand building and went to town with features everyone craved but couldn’t afford: a five-inch screen,quad-core processor,and good looks. “Our phones look better than Samsung’s,” claims Sudhir Hasija,chairman of Karbonn Mobiles,rubbishing allegations of copied design. Hasija was a distributor for Nokia and then Samsung before he set up Karbonn in 2009. The company’s success story,he insists,lies in its distribution system. “Our phones are available at …continued »

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