It’s raining smartphones in India

And many of them, in the mid-market as well as the ultra budget category promise to change the country forever
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer
Xiaomi's Mi3 5 inch Smartphone is destined to vanquish most phones in the category

The Gods seem to be smiling down upon the Indian cell phone consumer. Never before in the country's history have they been so spoilt for choice. For the past few years, it was local players like Micromax and Karbonn who began offering cheaper yet slick alternatives to brands like Samsung. Then came the MotoG which was a bonafide star and vanquished the Micromaxs as well as Samsungs of the world in its category.

A little after that came Nokia’s attractive X series of budget smartphone (under Rs 10,000 or US$166) that hitched its wagon to the Android platorm. Right on the X heels was another sensation—Motorola's MotoE, a budget version of the company's earlier blockbuster, which was proof that miracles can take place twice. And, just a few days ago, I wrote about Firefox’s potentially revolutionary US$25 phone soon to be manufactured and flogged in India by local manufacturers Spice and Intex.

What is truly amazing is that much of this action came in this calendar year alone, which tells you something about the rapidly shifting sands of smartphones and technology. And now, in the last week alone, two items of news promise that hits will continue to rain down on the Indian consumer.

First, Indians will finally get a taste of the wildly popular, Chinese Apple-esque phone brand that many parts of the world have been raving about—Xiaomi. The company, on July 15th is launching the Mi3 in India, not a brand spanking new device but hardly a year old and one that was received with rave reviews across the world on its debut.

x lineup
The Mi3

The Mi3 is armed with a 5-inch 1080p display, a robust 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB Internal memory as well as a 13 MP rear and a 2 MP front-facing camera. All of this is available for a sensational price of US$250 (Rs 14,999) and is expected, much like the MotoG and E to be launched on Flipkart.

The Mi3 has already, according to the Mint article, sold over 17 million handsets in China and easily outsells Apple in the country. Two of its phones—the Mi3 and the RedMI— apparently made it to the world’s top ten 'best selling smartphones' list. The only thing that stands between it and glory in India is the fact that Indians may be a little apprehensive about buying a Chinese brand with no track record of after sales service.

With a superb magnesium alloy frame coated with three layers of thermal graphite, just 8.1 mm thick and with no competitor of any type being able to match these specs by a long shot (the Mi3 basically competes with the Nexus 5 at Rs 27,000 US$450), it is unclear as to what any of the rival brands will be able to do to stop this Chinese juggernaut. Brands like Micromax, which made a name for itself with the Canvas HD in this price range could get destroyed by the Mi3, if it hasn’t already been impacted severely by the likes of the MotoG.

And now on the other end of the spectrum, local player Karbonn (currently number 3 with 9 percent of the Indian smartphone market) has decided to take a cue from Firefox’s US$25 budget phone to up the ante on the entire category by bringing out its own rock-bottom handsets. The one that competes most closely with the Firefox version is the Smart A5OS (2G), with a 3.5 screen, a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor, a 2 MP back camera, 256 MB RAM, 2 GM memory and a 1100 mah battery.

It's too early to tell how the base model, the A5OS compares with the Firefox phone, but while its features are comparable but is nearly double the price—although even for Indians, the difference is by and large the cost of a movie date and a cheap meal afterwards. The next-level-up Smart 12 (3G) on the other hand has a 4 inch display, dual SIM slots, a 1.2 Ghz dual core processor, a 5 MP shooter in the back, 512 RAM and 4 GB storage all for around $66, which makes it roughly comparable to the US$100 ZTE Open C that was being sold in the US not too long ago with the Firefox OS, and probably a much better bet than the US$80 Firefox-supported ZTE Open.

karbonn A5OS
Karbonn's Ultra-budget A5OS which hopes to give Firefox's US$25 phone a run for its money

Where does that leave us? Well, too early to say, except that whoever thought five years ago that you could get a smartphone with a functioning camera, Bluetooth and decent web browsing abilities on a 4 inch screen for a little over sixty bucks, and maybe even twenty-five? (which still seems a little unreal to me. I’d like to wait a year until the Indian market chews on it for a bit before offering any definitive pronouncements)

We all know that phones are being commoditised, but hell, at this rate they might as well be giving them away free—which I suspect may be just a marketing ploy that is a year away in the making.

One thing is for sure, the Smartphone revolution is finally here and once 80 percent of the population in rural India that still clutches on to its feature phones finally migrates to these cheap smartphones (that in fact share the same price with their featurephones), the world will not be the same.

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