The Indian smartphone market is stiffly competitive, and brands need much more than nostalgia to succeed

The likes of HMD Global and Motorola are looking at enticing buyers using a healthy dose of nostalgia.

nokia 8110 4g full open

If you were to wake up from your slumber and get a healthy dose of the latest tech news around this year’s Mobile World Congress, you would feel like you’re in the early 2000s. First it was HMD Global launching the Nokia 8110 in a new avatar. This was quickly followed by an anticipated relaunch of the Motorola Razr. As expected, the news reports gained significant attention. While these devices bring with them a healthy dose of nostalgia, a potential smartphone consumer is looking for an experience that undoubtedly goes far beyond nostalgia. In a market such as India which is fiercely competitive, aspects such as value for money, feature list, performance, potentially even resale value play a far more important role in the overall buying decision.

That’s precisely where a vast list of Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi, OnePlus, Lenovo and even Honor (by Huawei) seem to be gunning for affordable, value for money, feature-beasts, adding to Samsung’s woes.

Smartphones are here to stay

In case you doubted the future of smartphones, well, you can rest assured. Smartphones are here to stay. They faced their first decline in sales since the early 2000’s, and according to Gartner, global smartphone sales in Q4 2017 were down 5.6 percent year-over-year. Still, over 400 million devices were sold in one quarter across the globe. The reason isn’t that people aren’t buying new smartphones, but that they’re in fact holding on to their purchases for longer. This underscores the emphasis on value for money. A less frequent buying pattern, hints at a renewed focus on longevity of the device, security, updates, and long term performance.

Clearly, smartphones aren’t going extinct anytime soon. There certainly, isn’t any reason to look at mobile devices of the yore to generate excitement. Old devices being reborn is a good reminiscing moment cherished by consumers. It makes for good social posts online. But for smartphone companies to really see healthy growth, the need of the hour is to look beyond.

Nostalgia 2.0

Let’s take HMD Global as an example. This is the second consecutive MWC that the company has launched an aww-inspiring mobile device. This time around, the banana-shaped Nokia 8110 felt a tad forced. An aggressive attempt at garnering user attention at most. I must admit, going by online mentions, and reports such as the rampant growth in the use of the banana emoji on Twitter, HMD Global has a winner here.

As for Motorola, the return of the Razr does sounds nothing short of a fairytale. Despite the fact that the Moto Razr has raised the company from the ashes once in the past, would you actually ditch your smartphone to buy one of these devices? You might hover towards the positive for a bit. But when the excitement settles in, and you contemplate the longevity of your potential buy, and value for money, which is a dear quantity in a market such as India, you’d end up putting off such a buy.

Put value first

What these companies should instead be focused on is ensuring their smartphones are better packaged. On paper, the new Nokia Android smartphones are well built, offer competitive specs, and are a part of Google’s Android One initiative. They even assure you of frequent software and security updates as a result. All said and done, you can’t help but still feel a tad underwhelmed when the dominant offering is nostalgia.

At the end of it all, they just seem like iterative upgrades over their predecessors. Lenovo-owned Motorola too is expected to launch a host of devices in the coming weeks and months. If current rumors doing the round is anything to go by, the next Moto Razr won’t have any features that strike a chord with consumer sentiment.

Deals over loyalty

Gone are the heydays of Nokia and BlackBerry as icons, when consumer loyalty was a given. These are evolved times, where masses have turned deal-hunters. Brands who offer ‘better deals’ have eroded long lasting loyalty from the minds of the masses.

It’s no wonder that Chinese smartphone companies are hogging on the larger slice of the pie. In India too, which has traditionally been wary of Chinese products, Xiaomi has gone on to become the number one smartphone company. These companies follow a simple formula, and it’s clearly working – offer smartphones with competitive specs, and at an aggressive price. As a result, Indian smartphone companies have been left far behind, and the likes of Samsung too has received a rude wake up call.

Since its debut last year, HMD Global has no doubt shown a steady rise. It has managed to capture one percent global market share, and currently stands at number 11. In India though, it has to do much more to be able to breach the top-five list. Motorola too has been on the fringes of the top-five for sometime now. But it is no small part because of Lenovo.

It is quite simple then. Companies need to look at being innovative, and aggressive with their offerings. Nostalgia is great, but is really the decider only when all competing brands match the feature set of a device during a buying decision.

  • Published Date: March 2, 2018 3:00 PM IST