Moto G is a game changer but likely to be a commercial failure in India

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Last night Motorola took several pot shots at Samsung and Apple about how they are ignoring the mass market smartphone users by offering them obsolete tech when it came to the sub-$200 smartphone segment. It went on to claim how the Moto G would offer a similar experience as the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S at a third of the price. Motorola CEO, Dennis Woodside, even proclaimed how the Moto G has been made for the next half-a-billion smartphone users who cannot afford an expensive smartphone but want a premium smartphone experience. But can Motorola translate all of this into commercial success?

Don’t get me wrong. The Moto G sounds like a great product, at least on paper, for its price. There is no tier one OEM that offers all the features like a big HD display, a quad-core processor, water resistance and an almost pure Android experience in the sub-$200 segment, which accounts for 67 percent of the entire smartphone market in India. I had earlier pointed out how tier one brands are paying a lip service to this category, which has resulted in the rise of local players.

Another major point that Motorola is making here is it will provide Android updates. Currently the phone runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but by the time it is launched in India, it will run on Android 4.4 KitKat. This is a big deal considering most phones in this price segment rarely get any software updates once it is launched.

Keeping the specs, the “claimed” build quality, software and most importantly the price in mind, the Moto G is certainly a game changer. But a great product has rarely guaranteed commercial success. And the odds of the Moto G being a commercial success seem bleak at the moment.

Motorola might be a “Google-owned” company but it is not Google. Across the world, barring the US and some Latin American countries, Motorola is a brand that has wound up its business and left. It does not have any market presence in most of the world. It is no longer a tier one OEM as far as the trade is concerned. What’s more, the launch of the Moto G does not mean it marks Motorola’s re-entry in the countries from where it left.

Apart from the US and Brazil where one will be able to buy the Moto G directly from Motorola, it will be sold through Motorola’s partners – carriers, retail chains and distributors – in the rest of the world. This brings the big question of who handles the after-sales service, which is a critical aspect for most emerging countries, including India. Who will set up the service centres across the country, if Motorola is not doing it on its own?

The next challenge for Motorola would be its distribution and sales strategy. For a product in this segment, it is imperative to be present in brick and mortar stores rather than having an online-only model. Retailers are not comfortable stocking a product of a company that does not have a physical presence in the country.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that Google is calling the shots with Motorola’s product portfolio to advance its Android agenda, rather than Motorola aspiring to become the great smartphone brand it once was.

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