Global brands like HTC and Lenovo are gearing up for a pitched battle to break the dominance of Samsung and Nokia in the Indian smartphone market

For the past few months Apple has been advertising heavily in India trying to push iPhone sales. While Apple has been a leader in the global smartphone stakes, India has not been an important market until now. But with sales dipping in other major markets, the iconic brand is now turning its eyes to emerging countries including India.

Apple is not the only one which has increased focus on the Indian market. Recently, Chinese computing major Lenovo held its global board meeting in New Delhi indicating the importance it was attaching to this country. Lenovo, which launched its first smartphone in India last year, is eyeing 1 million unit sales by the end of this fiscal.

“I have told my India team that we need to achieve a target of 1 million smartphones this year and sustain the number one position in the PC segment,” says Yang Yuanqing, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Lenovo. “We have sold 9 million phones in China. The next boom for smartphones can happen in India,” he said.

While Lenovo is a new entrant, brands like HTC and BlackBerry which have been playing in the Indian market are upping their game. In a bid to capture a larger market share of the growing smartphone market in India, Taiwanese device maker HTC has prepared a blueprint to ramp up its marketing presence in the market. The company plans to make available its phones in over 11,000 outlets against 3,000 outlets at present. It is also tripling the number of after sales service centres to 450 from about 150 now.

“India is on its way to become the third largest smartphone market in the world and HTC wants to take a 25 per cent share over the next 18 months,” says Faisal Siddiqui, Country Head, HTC India. HTC claims to have six per cent market share of the highly competitive smartphone market dominated by Samsung and Nokia. Samsung and Nokia control the Indian smartphone space with nearly 60 per cent share in terms of value.

Market watchers say that the challenger brands do have a chance given that the smartphone market is still at a nascent stage. “Brands like Lenovo have a huge opportunity because the market size for smartphones is still very small. It’s early days and the game is not over,” says Anshul Gupta, analysts at Gartner tracking consumer devices market.

HTC’s Siddiqui says he is confident of making a dent into the market. “In January 2012, we just had 2.4 per cent share of the market which we have grown to 6 per cent. Feedback from market says that we make the best smartphone but we have to go and tell that story better to the consumers,” says Siddiqui.

Over the next year, HTC wants to expand its presence to beyond 35 top cities in order to reach out to a larger universe. The phone maker launched about 10-12 phones last year ranging from Rs 11,000 to Rs 38,000. Going forward, it plans to launch about two new phones a quarter on Android and Windows platforms.

Lenovo believes that it has a unique proposition. “We don’t want to be an Apple or Samsung. We want to offer differentiated products that are centred on user experience,” says Yuanqking.

Meanwhile BlackBerry, which has been strong in the over Rs 10,000 category, is strengthening its Indian operations ahead of the launch of the all important BB 10 devices. BB10 is the new operating system from BlackBerry which is expected to bring the Canadian phone maker back among the top smartphone maker globally. The handset maker has opened 100 new service centres that will address consumer queries and complaints within 24 hours. BlackBerry has roped in HCL Infosystems and Redington to run these centres across 80 cities.

BlackBerry has roped in senior level talent from rival device makers to boost the marketing and sales team. For instance Prosenjit Sen, who was earlier with Samsung, has been appointed as the new Director of Channel Sales. Ashish Gupta, an ex-HP man, has been brought in as Director (Marketing). Sumita Tandon has been brought in from HP as the new HR head. BB10 is the biggest launch for BlackBerry in India and the company has been preparing for almost 3 months. Sunil Dutt, Managing Director, BlackBerry India says, “Most of the people would call us a challenger from an overall market perspective but my strategy is different. I don’t let anyone in my team ever build strategy build a strategy by taking the name of competition. The way we build our strategy is to build a product with the customer in mind.” Dutt says that he has not set any targets for his team for BB10 because he does not want to limit what they can do.

But its not going to be a walk in the park for the challengers. Both Samsung and Nokia are launching new phone models frequently and dropping prices of the older versions in a bid to stay at the top.Samsung, for instance, recently slashed prices of Galaxy SIII and phablet Note II . The SIII is now available for Rs 28,990 compared with Rs 31,900 earlier and Note II will be available for Rs 35,900 down from the previous price tag of Rs 36,900. “We are looking at fueling the growth in the over Rs 20,000 smartphone market with this new pricing,” Asim Warsi, Vice-President- Mobile, Samsung India, said explaining the price cut.

“It’s not going to be easy for the challenger brands given that Samsung and Nokia are well entrenched. They will have to come up with some innovative products and schemes to woo customers,” said Gartner's Gupta

thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 15, 2013)
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