There are 50 million feature phone users in India who are yet to hop on the knowledge-filled world of smartphones. The market is huge and to create the demand for internet-based devices, the focus is – disruptive pricing. Sure, manufacturers are focusing on extremely affordable ‘smartphones’ but there is a digital gap which fails to address the needs of those millions of feature phone users. In the past, we have seen ‘cheapest smartphone’ gimmick in the form of Freedom 251 – a deal which failed miserably. Enter Reliance Jio with its JioPhone, priced ‘effectively zero’, and all hell broke lose as questions rose about the practicality in offering an ‘effectively free’ phone which is actually a smartphone in disguise.
During the AGM speech, Mukesh Ambani announced that the company plans to bring 4G connectivity to feature phone users in India who’ve been oblivious to the digital revolution. For this, the ‘effectively free’ JioPhone will require users to spend a fully refundable amount of Rs 1,500, which can be claimed after three years. So in theory, you can use the feature phone with 4G LTE support, content streaming capability and free voice and data service for three years and claim the amount you paid for it in the first place.
But there’s fine print too
Even as the company is claiming that the device is ‘effectively free’ there are a lot of aspects which do not necessarily count as ‘free.’ With the 100 percent refundable amount what the company is offering is essentially a kind of rental plan, where you don’t appear to be paying for the device but for the services it can offer, making is a more believable proposition as compared to Ringing Bells’ Freedom 251 – a shoddily re-branded Adcom smartphone offered for a mere Rs 251.
Remember Ringing Bells?
When Ringing Bells announced the Freedom 251, customers flocked the company’s website, which caused it to crash following an unbelievable 5 crore registrations as claimed by the company, raising doubts about the authenticity of the product. Now, it is exactly where the differences between the cheap phone offers made by Ringing Bells and Reliance Jio arise. Even if one was to believe that the Freedom 251 was a legit offering, the challenge for the company was to meet the sky-high demand.
Ringing Bells was a company based in Noida and following the unexpected global attraction to its Freedom 251 smartphone scheme, it struggled to scale up the production. Reportedly, Ringing Bells CEO Mohit Goel sought help from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to deliver 7.5 crore units of the phone and demanded Rs 50,000 crore from the government under the Digital India initiative. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone is on a quest to dominate the rural telecom market in India
At the scale of Reliance
For the Ambani-led Reliance Jio, scaling up is unlikely to be a challenge. The company has a strong success history when it launched its Jio 4G services and even as there were chaos and people were struggling to get their hands on the ‘free’ Jio SIM cards, there were minor issues when it came to availability.
Today, the company boasts over 100 million paying Prime customers. In order to meet the growing demand for 4G services, the company plans to expand its physical distribution network in the country. Ambani announced that the company plans to have over 10,000 Jio offices across every city and tehsil town of India and will partner with sales channel partners and over 10 lakh physical retail outlets that sell Jio services in addition to e-commerce platforms.
With such a strategy to expand its 4G services across regions, one can expect the JioPhone to become an instant hit. It is also worth mentioning that the company is not going to immediately make the phone available but through a phased manner. It will first open the phone up for a ‘friendly’ test by beta users before making it available for pre-booking prior to main sales. RELATED: Reliance JioPhone pre-booking: Here’s how to apply and book the phone first
Although the Freedom 251 turned out to be a ponzy scheme with the company executives facing jail term for fraud, but it has to be credited with generating the need for a truly affordable device that could help first time users ‘make the switch’. As smartphone usage demands a certain level of digital literacy by the users, the JioPhone aims to fill the gap with its voice control feature.
For an individual used to physical keys on a phone, a touch-based smartphone is a huge leap. However, if the age-old feature phone allows for smarter features like internet browsing and streaming of content, through voice commands, then the learning involved is lesser and adoption immediately boosted. It is the same, aesthetically unpleasing, feature phone, but one that functions like a workstation terminal, providing access to high speed internet and allowing one to stream movies onto a larger screen, making it a no brainer for those with no experience or knowledge of operating a touch-based smartphone.
The JioPhone makes sense
The reason why JioPhone makes sense is because it promises to deliver what is technically possible without appearing gimmicky. Take for instance an individual looking at high-speed internet access, purely for watching movies or surfing the web, the refundable Rs 1,500 option is much more lucrative than opting for a Rs 3,000 smartphone which compromises on built and features. While it is unclear at the moment if there will purchase options such as EMIs for the phone, but for someone with the spending power of Rs 1,500, the prospect of ‘free voice and data’ with the refundable amount is like an icing on the cake. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone: From 4G VoLTE compatibility to voice control, here are the top features of the feature phone