Wrestle of the Cell Giants

The very first mobile I owned was Nokia N-Gage QD, a handheld gaming device and a phone combined. I had just returned from my first sail with a bank balance and mobile phone had been my object of desire for a long time. With enough cash in hand, me and my brother went to the gray market and bought the N-Gage QD costing 9500 rs. and a Sony Ericsson K700i costing 15000 rs. for my brother. The year was 2004 and the cost, if extrapolated to todays currency value, will be considered outrageous for the technology we had bought then, as compared to todays technology. But then, we had no choice. Nokia had established itself as a long term player by creating a psudo-image of being a reliable and cheap phone maker and Sony Ericsson was the only other player well worth the name. I called it a psudo image because the phone that I bought couldn’t be used in many countries and became my regret during my next sailing period.

Meanwhile, Nokia kept on flooding their phones in Indian market under lots of different brand names like E-series, N-Series etc. while Sony Ericsson had their very own walkman series to show off. There was not much technology up gradation except the camera quality, which effectively marked the beginning of the end for the digital camera market in India. So Nokia and SE, the only two major players in India, flooded the market while they could afford to, with older generation phone which had already seen few years in international market. Whenever the time to change my phone neared, it was a period of dilemma for me since I was sure what I wanted to buy but I couldn’t get it in the market. The clever ploy by Nokia was to tweek the series numbers in small ways and strip down one feature from the phone while introducing another feature. Indians were just learning about the levels of technology advances in cell phone arena and were not yet able to translate it into the phones they were buying. Marketing gimmick like “Music Edition” was liberally used while they just meant a change in series number and inclusion of high capacity storage card for storage of additional music. They called their phones “Internet enabled” which meant that they were marketing the GPRS feature already being sold in their other handsets, while I was yearning for introduction of 3G broadband launch in India. All in all, these companies were fooling people, just because the people let themselves being fooled.

So for quite a few years, when you looked around in public, if anyone was talking on a mobile phone, it had to be Nokia about 80% of the time and Sony Ericsson was seen with the kids of the rich. It was around 2008-2009 when Samsung, a small player in Indian market with few ordinary handsets, came up with  a clear plan in Korea to capture the Indian market. And it worked right from the launch of the Corby Series. They were by no means smartphone. Just simple colorful touchscreen phones with lots of features in a single handset. Samsung tried not to strip down the feature with any upgraded handset they introduced unlike Nokia. It was always an addition of features in the upgraded handset. After the launch of Corby, everyone wanted to “Touch”. Touch screen, that to capacitive, became the talk of the day. Corby series had dual effect on Indian strongmen of the Cellphone arena. They defeated the Nokia which had the knack to strip down the features and they countered the high cost of fully equipped Sony Ericsson phones. Samsung didn’t stop there. They had launched Galaxy series phones in international market with Android OS at its core, and didn’t waste much time in launching them in India at competitive price. Meanwhile Nokia shunned away from Android, which had google as its godfather and continued with Symbian with its dwindling developer base, thanks to the lucrative Android and iOS. Sony Ericsson had its hiccups in embracing android and fell behind in the race.

Meanwhile, Samsung dished out galaxy after galaxy  in International and Indian market and pampered us with choice. Now if I had to buy a phone, it was just the dilemma about which galaxy series phone to buy. The manufacturer was no longer a contention since Samsung had proven itself with the overall quality of their phones. (That I bought a Wave series phone in place of Galaxy series is another story which was due to some constrains and faith in the BADA OS. Eventually I bought a Galaxy phone recently.) LG, Motorola, and other minor players with self branded chinese phones were out of question due to their quality and service related issues.

While Samsung was evolving in India, another Indian player Micromax has few aces up its sleeve. They had launched their first dual sim phone around the year 2009, and these phones, with QWERTY keypads became objects of desire for financially constrained blackberry fans. Starting at 1500 rs, these dual sim phones literally captured the Indian pockets. There were few quality issues, but while spending 1500 rs for a dual sim QWERTY keypad phone, people had  it in their mind that they just couldn’t always have their cake and eat it too. Still the sales of these phones didn’t go down. Micromax too burned their hands with feature phones but they didn’t just sell in the market.The real turning point for Micromax was when they embraced Android for their phones and introduced the game changer Canvas A110 as their flagship with good specifications and a 5” screen. This phone came with Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box and was a real eye candy. Infact, when I said earlier that for me the dilemma was choosing between different galaxy phones, I think I can safely say that there were as many galaxy phones in the market because Micromax bridged the gap between the low end feature phones and high end smart phone by actually introducing a smartphone for the cost of low end phones. Samsung was actually forced to bridge the gap themselves by introduction of smart phones with bigger screen for lesser cost and eventually by introducing a dual sim smart phone in India.

Micromax has in its kitty a large profile of smart phones from their current flagship, Canvas HD with quadcore chipset and RAM comparable to the Samsung’s previous flagship SIII at half the price, Canvas 3D, Ninja(am sure this will connect with Ninja fans), Canvas Doodle(to fight against the Galaxy Note series), Canvas Music etc.. With the exception of Canvas HD, the other phones are sold between 8000-11000 rs. I have had a hands on experience on Canvas 110 and CanvasA88 Music and I was amazed that they performed well. Infact Canvas Music comes with Android Jelly Bean out of the box, so 512 MB ram does not hold it back.

Look around you in India at this moment and you will see about 70% people talking on a Samsung handset. But are things about to change? Has the David of yesteryears turned into a Goliath, ready to be defeated by the new David(Micromax)? Or will the Goliath rule for few more years? My intuition says that Samsung is about to reach peak very soon and make way for Micromax in India. Time will tell.

Till then enjoy my blog.

(Disclaimer: This post is my personal take on the Cell phone market in India and not intended to promote/create negative publicity for any phone maker. A person buying a cell phone should act on his own fair judgment while making the purchase. After all, you are spending your own money)

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