The sub-$100 smartphone segment is set to get a big boost with the launch of Qualcomm’s latest 215 mobile platform. The new chipset promises to bring improved performance, better photography features and the ability to support NFC payments to affordable Android devices.
Qualcomm said the 215 mobile platform is designed to deliver up to 50 per cent better CPU performance compared to the previous generation chipset. It is also the first processor in the 2-series lineup of chipsets that support 64-bit architecture, a shift from a 32-bit processor. Of late, Google is phasing out support for 32-bit Android apps. As of August this year, all 32-bit apps must have a 64-bit version too. Google requires 64-bit apps, as it prepares for future Android devices that only support 64-bit code.
At the centre of 215 mobile platform is Adreno 308 GPU. According to Qualcomm, the Adreno 308 GPU gives up to 28 per cent boost in gaming performance compared to the previous generation. The 215 mobile platform is the first to support HD+ resolution displays in the 2-series, plus it also gets dual camera support. The chipmaker said the new 215 platform is capable of capturing images at 13MP and video recording at 1080p.
On the connectivity front, the 215 mobile platform features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X5 modem supports LTE Cat 4, which is capable of download speeds up to 150Mbps. In addition, the SoC features EVS Voice calls or Ultra HD Voice Calls and is the first chipset in the series to support NFC for Android payments. Smartphones with the 215-powered chipset will hit the market in the second-half of the year.
Despite large and untapped users, the bottom end of the smartphone is yet to witness the same level of growth as the mid-range segment. While there are smartphones available at $100, they lack enough RAM and processing speeds. Google in the past has tried to enhance the experience of low-end smartphones with an operating system that includes apps that are optimized to run on devices with less storage. That strategy has seen limited success so far.
“Qualcomm is making an attempt to push the ecosystem further down in terms of smartphone pricing so that smartphones with low end specs with low hardware cost (2GB RAM and low battery) can perform better than current models,” said Navkendar Singh, an analyst with IDC India.
Singh said the 215 mobile platform will help Android Go devices to deliver better performance and deliver longer battery life, which is most important for a budget smartphone user or migrating feature phone users. As per him, Qualcomm’s latest move will bring the overall cost down to make the phone more affordable, possibly around $50 – $60. That’s where the San Diego-based chipset marker sees the big opportunity with the 215 mobile platform.
While the demand for affordable smartphones continue to be there in India, major players like Samsung, Oppo and Vivo have not shown much interest in making phones that cost less than Rs 5,000. It’s not that smartphone brands are not targeting this segment. For a change, Xiaomi recently launched its Redmi Go phone, which costs Rs 4,449. However, there are a few brands that are willing to launch affordable smartphones for the masses thanks to the low margins and this is why feature phones are still popular in the bottom rung.
The reason why brands are not targeting the low-end of the smartphone market is because of the current device cost structure that makes it unviable to bring smartphones at below $100. Because of the device cost structure, Chinese brands have not been able to sell ultra low-cost smartphones at around $70 very aggressively in India. At one point of time, Indian brands such as Micromax and Intex used to rule the affordable smartphone space, but they have all been wiped out.
In addition, the sub-$100 smartphone market is “offline heavy” and preliminary exists in smaller towns and cities. Singh said the cost of doing offline distribution and logistical operations in smaller cities and villages makes it a heavy investment business for smartphone players, which is why the affordable smartphone segment hasn’t seen a lot of movement lately. Plus, the online push by Amazon and Flipkart has made the $100 – $300 segment more exciting for everyone.