Mobile handset makers can gain a competitive edge by tailoring their designs according to the local market, and screen size, button layout, and add-on hardware features are areas they should be looking to innovate on.
According to Alok Shende, principal analyst at Ascentius Consulting, tailoring a handset's hardware to local tastes is important to gain consumer buy-in and market share.
For instance, in many emerging markets such as India, a popular feature is dual-SIM functionality. This is because with the market predominantly based on prepaid subscriptions, customers have a strong tendency to switch service providers for marginal gains in prices, Shende explained.
"A dual-SIM phone offers a chance for subscribers to continue employing the old number which has been shared with all personal contacts and, at the same time, use low-priced new SIM cards to make outgoing calls," he added.
Agreeing, Pradeep Singh, analyst at Itim Research, used Japan as an example of phonemakers customizing to meet local consumers' needs. There, mobile handsets such as Samsung's Galaxy S2 feature an extra extension antenna for 1seg signals. 1seg is used for local mobile terrestrial digital audio, TV, and data broadcasting services.
For other markets which require input of complex characters for text messages due to their native language, Singh said keypad layouts are an important consideration too.
"It's important to assign the keys in the most convenient way that will allow them to type a message," he said, adding that larger screen sizes are another hardware feature that would appeal to consumers in these markets.
Customer feedback vital
Sony Mobile Communications is one phonemaker that is heeding what the analysts have pointed out and paying attention to local user habits and what they want from their mobile devices.
Tom Waldner, acting head of creative product design at Sony Mobile, said: "Our approach begins with the consumer enabling us to anticipate what they will want next. This plays a key role in how our design is tailored for consumer use in the markets they live in."
The company looks at device localization from two main aspects: the consumers and the markets they live in, said Waldner.
Consumers worldwide, for example, evolve and adopt technology at different paces, with Japanese consumers having a preference for devices with relatively higher specifications for water resistance and durability so Sony would prioritize Japan as one of the first markets to get such handsets.
From a market perspective, the executive said the ongoing LTE rollout in United States has created a growing consumer demand for LTE-enabled devices as they look to tap on the faster wireless speeds.
"In a nutshell, it is important for us to both evolve our design alongside consumer preference and also introduce them to new design elements," Waldner said.
Singh pointed out besides hardware designs, phonemakers can also differentiate by pre-installing local content and services on the phones. China handset manufacturers, for instance, can integrate video content from Youku Tudou, Baidu's music services, Sina's Weibo microblogging platform, and Tencent's QQ social network onto their devices to further entice consumers to their products, he noted.
Sometimes, localization becomes more a necessity than a bonus as well. Leon Perera, CEO of Spire Research, used Nokia's Lumia smartphone as a case study, saying the device attracted attention for all the wrong reasons because of its branding.
"Lumia" in Spanish-speaking countries translates to prostitute, and this is naturally a deterrent for consumers to purchase the Finnish phonemaker's flagship device, Perera stated.