X marks Nokia's attempts to reclaim its lost glory in India

X marks Nokia's attempts to reclaim its lost glory in India

Summary: Nokia will hope that its X lineup will woo customers away from local heavyweights like Micromax, Karbonn, and Lava, which have dominated the market for low-end smartphones.

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It is rich irony that a phone company that once dominated the Indian market is now playing the underdog to many of the same players that upended it.

Nokia X
Nokia's X Series

Nokia yesterday unveiled three Android-based smartphone devices in the "affordable" segment (under $160) that could put some serious heat on low-cost Indian players like Micromax and Karbonn, which have largely built their fortunes around low-cost, feature-rich Android phones.

If Nokia's strategy works, it could be a sensational comeback for a company that was the best brand in India during the cell phone revolution around 15 years ago — indeed, its name was pretty much synonymous with the cell phone here at one point — with cheap, sturdy, basic, and sleek phones equipped with an indispensable, powerful torch on the front that many of us still yearn for, especially if you happen to regularly fumble around for keys or change diapers in the dark.

Nokia was so huge here that it had a near-invincible 75 percent of the market share in the early 2000s, tanking to under 30 percent by 2010. Today, it has a measly 14.7 percent of the feature phone market (outstripped by leader Samsung, at 15.3 percent) and less than 5 percent of the smartphone market, behind Lava (4.7 percent), Sony (5 percent), Karbonn (10 percent), Micromax (16 percent), and Samsung (38 percent), according to IDC.

Its plummeting fortunes largely mirrored a global trend, but watching the company's management stumble about in a haze while Samsung and local players like Micromax and Karbonn started eating their lunch was like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Here were these nimble new players, along with the equally sure-footed leviathan surfing the emerging smartphone wave with aplomb, offering a diverse array of products while Nokia remained frozen.

It was one thing to be unable to predict the convergence of the computer and the phone, but entirely another thing to not be able to act on mounting evidence that smartphones were the unquestionable future of phone (and computer) companies. Just this year, feature phones, which have traditionally been Nokia's strength, have fizzled from 90 percent of the market to 78 percent.

So, no wonder that India has become perhaps the most important market for smartphone players, third largest in the world today, gigantic in terms of the country's 1.2 billion population potential and growing at 181 percent year over year (YoY), as of the fourth quarter of 2013, according to IDC. Yet, it is also a treacherous industry with seesawing fortunes, as Nokia's history shows.

The company sure isn't getting any breaks here. Yes, Nokia's stylish Lumia line of smartphones with fantastic cameras have impressed, but despite posting a 34 percent increase in unit sales, its market share slid from 8.79 percent to around 5 percent in just six months (for the period ending 2013 Q3), according to IDC. Today, it isn't even in the top five in smartphones.

The X series has a good chance of changing that. Its phones have Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processors and dual Sims. The X comes with a 4-inch IPS capacitive display, a 3MP camera ($122), and 512MB of RAM. The higher-end XL comes with a 5-inch display with 2MP front-facing camera, a 5MP rear-facing autofocus camera with flash, and 768MB of RAM ($150).

These are quality specs, and the company is finally in a prime position to contest the dominance of local players in the low-end smartphone market, such as Micromax and Karbonn.

While a company like Micromax has built a great brand and has improved its after-sales service, according to reports, it may get a real run for its money from the X phones. Take my own experience, for instance (which certainly should not be read as the average experience of a Micromax user, but at least indicative in some way).

After my beloved Samsung Galaxy S2 was smashed to the ground, I scoured the market for a cheaper alternative, vowing not to shell out an exorbitant sum for a phone that would eventually succumb to the ravages of rambunctious toddlers. After doing some research, I settled on Micromax's 116 A Canvas HD, despite warnings on blogs about cheap build quality. The specs were hard to beat at the price offered ($190).

A day after buying it, the phone kept crashing every time I touched an icon. The dealer reset it and said it should be OK. A few weeks later, I got the same result. I still haven't mustered up the energy or will to stand in a never-ending line at a Micromax service center. It may be irrational, but this ultimately spells the end of my Micromax experiment, especially with globally acclaimed phones like the Moto G finally available to Indian consumers.

If many Indians end up thinking like me — especially the hundreds of millions of rural Indians who are legacy customers and the biggest fans of Nokia's existing Asha series of feature phones — then Nokia has a real shot at winning their hearts and minds and wallets, and causing an upheaval in the Indian phone market.

Topics: Nokia, Android, Smartphones, India

Rajiv Rao

About Rajiv Rao

Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India.

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13 comments
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  • Hoping M$ supports the Nokia X Series

    Regardless of the flags this will generate; Yes M$ needs to support the competitors products. If M$ had a hope of becoming a dominant smart phone provider I'd agree that they should only support their own eco-system, but they have no such hope. If they can make money with a phone using a non-M$ OS they should go for it. If they can make money supporting apps for a non-M$ OS they should go for it. Their options are more limited than when they ruled the world.
    FrankInKy
    • you get flags

      Because you refer Microsoft as M$ forgetting the company you worship is also there for $ and abusing its market power like AT&T, IBM and Microsoft did once.
      Ram U
      • I don't worship any company

        I have close to zero brand loyalty for anyone. I just buy the products I think best suit me without consideration of the manufacturer.
        FrankInKy
        • But yet you praise Apple and Google

          on every Microsoft post here.
          Ram U
          • My post didn't mention Apple or Google

            except generically as a "non-M$ OS", not what I'd consider praise of either Apple or Google.
            FrankInKy
          • what company isn't there for $

            oh yeah the ones that go bankrupt.
            everss02
  • nokia rocks

    Nokia as a brand, it's still respected. Its horrific blunder it's been playing politics with Microsoft. Had they gone ahead with the android banner from its inception, it probably would've kept its leadership in the world. Now I believe that with their android embrace, Nokia/Microsoft have a place in the world. I believe mr. Nadella is the adult in the room to bring some sense to all the foolish drama that has plague both companies fo so long.
    virgilnet
    • HTC disproves your theroy.

      HTC is worse off than BB.
      everss02
  • Now let's see...

    If all the people who touted that Android is the cure to all Nokia's woes are right.
    Tablazines
  • Time will tell

    Android on Nokia phones does sound interesting. However there are a couple of things that might put off the users. Nokia X series would not have access to Google Play store. The reason for rise of any device or application (It is said Whatsapp became popular because of the simplicity of using it) is the ease with which it can be used. Downloading apk files and such to get android applications sounds a bit of work as compared to the much easier single tap to install on traditional android phones. All in all there will still be adventurists who would like to try the new “Windroid”. Time will tell if this works for Nokia.
    Matt Grober
    Matt Grober
  • Nokia + Android Combination!!!

    The much awaited Android based phone by Nokia is out and seems rightly priced with good specifications. The phone is aesthetic in looks and has powerful operating system which is quite renowned too. The users can now enjoy that feeling of robot (android) and trust of owning a Nokia phone! What's better deal than this. For mobile application development in platforms like Android, Windows, iOS, reach us at.. http://www.techcronus.com/services/mobile-application-development.html
    harshraj
  • nokia x

    nokia finally launches its first android phone in india http://techismyzone.com/nokia-finally-launched-nokia-x-in-india-priced-at-rs-8599/
    uminhas93@...
  • Reality

    No offense to author BUT i've been using Micromax A116HD from last year. And let me tell you, my use is very rough. I root my phone within a week, dropped several times, make custom firemware changes etc in a year. Micromax still have problems with after sales service but so does Nokia (my experience).
    If you know what you are doing with your phone, & cause-effect of your actions, you will be just fine with Micromax.
    gargeyak