Here’s Why The Budget Smartphone Segment Sucks in India
India’s growing population has given leg-space to many industries that don’t seem to stop churning out great growth numbers. And with the given impetus to digitalization, technological side of growth has straight-up zoomed past the others. So with growing population, digitalization campaigns and consumers getting more technology savvy which industry do you think would have proliferated the most? Smartphones? Yes, exactly!
India today is the world’s second largest smartphone market and has been growing unabashedly without breaking a sweat. Allow me to quantify India’s smartphone growth story. India overtook US to become the second largest smartphone market in the world, standing just behind China. For the first time smartphone shipments in India crossed 40 million in Q3 2017. This indicates a staggering growth of 27% inspite of bottlenecks like demonetization. Not just mobile purchases, but even the number of mobiles purchased have increased due to more companies setting up their manufacturing units in India under the Make in India campaign. Only between September 2015 and October 2016, 38 new mobile manufacturing facilities have been set-up!
Now that we’ve established the proliferation of mobile devices in India let’s actually get into what this article was intended to cover.
We all must’ve heard complains about how what seemed to be wonderful phones on paper fail only months after they’ve been bought. Consumers tend to feel cheated on how phones that were promised to have the ‘latest and the greatest’ specs fail so soon. But if we dive deeper into the problem, you’d be surprised to know that it’s the consumer who is ultimately to be blamed (in a way).
The world knows that India’s a price-sensitive market. A simple change in price can do wonders for a previously not selling commodity. The same price-sensitivism has trickled down to purchases of mobile phones. Consumers want the best spec’d smartphone for the cheapest price possible. This is exactly where the Chinese players came into play and dominated the subcontinent of India. Where 2 years ago more than 50% of the market was dominated by local players like Karbonn, Micromax and Lava, Chinese players now have more than 50% of the total smartphone market. But not only Chinese, companies from all around the globe have tried to enter (and either failed or flourished) a market where currently only less than 30% of the total population of 1.2 billion own a smartphone.
The Numbers Game
Indians have always had an inherent penchant with numbers. Although price tags is just a very small example, commoners over-rely on numbers to make daily decisions. Not just for Indians, even for most people who roam this planet, numbers tend to oversimplify statements that otherwise would take a lot of language and concept learning to understand.
This is the exact concept that the smartphone manufacturers have exploited in order to rake-in higher sales. The average Indian consumers are not as technologically aware, exactly how smartphone companies would like them to be. This means that understanding how processors work or what they actually are is beyond the understanding of most of us. Even different versions of Android mean little to a common layman as long as they can make a few calls, send a few messages and keep a tab on Virat Kohli’s century count without the phone stammering. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot who do care and understand all that comes in and with the phone. But at least, from what I have experienced, this number’s not too big to be boasted about.
So now that the smartphone companies came to know that the qualitative aspects of a phone don’t come under consumer scanner, companies began to focus on numbers more than actual quality. All marketing material started to tell stories about the number of cores a phone’s processor had rather than which cores it used (It got so important that companies even stopped mentioning the make of the chipset). They began emphasizing on how much RAM the phone had without giving a damn if the phone’s software could actually take advantage of such a beefy RAM. Even cameras weren’t spared. All of a sudden, the number of pixels a camera had became directly proportional to the quality of the images it clicked. Again, software processing and other factors like aperture size and lens were easily overlooked by consumers because they didn’t even know the role played by them in the final image.
This led to a serious problem, that still exists today, especially in budget phones. To make budget phones more attractive, these companies, slowly started adding features found on much more expensive phones to their budget line-up to bait in price-sensitive customers. To an average consumer, the price difference between a Samsung Galaxy S8 and a Moto G5 won’t be digestible. If the Moto G5 that was almost four times cheaper than the S8 also had an octa-core processor and 4GB of RAM, why would he/she shell more money for the S8. Little he knows that the processor on the S8 is miles ahead of what the Moto G5’s is capable of doing. Hell, for the same person the octa-core Snapdragon 430 would be twice better than the quad-core Snapdragon 820.
This meaningless pursuit of ‘apparent improvements’ in smartphones has only magnified the problem. You could also call this marketing myopia, where companies only focused on the numbers aspect of the smartphone while they never cared about how they all worked in tandem went down the drain.
All these budget phones, as I have noticed, have a trend. Promising phones on paper, but fail as soon as they get on the field due to incorrect use of chipsets. Cheaper budget phones are the ones that face the brunt of this tactic. Chipsets are the amongst the most expensive parts of a phone. So to make cheaper phones, manufacturers tend to skimp on good processors, and replace them with cheaper ones (preferably ones that have more cores to market them well). Now that they’ve saved money on processors, this money is used to bump up RAM and storage and all those pixels which might not really add up to anything solid. But being the people we are, we see them as upgrades and end up buying them to replace existing laggy ones.
Companies also tend to stick to a particular chipset for a different range of smartphones. Xiaomi did this with the Snapdragon 625. The Redmi Note 3 was a hit and redefined what an entry-level smartphone could be thanks to the Snapdragon 650 in it. But it’s successor, the Redmi Note 4, had a Snapdragon 625 (Snapdragon 660 SoC wasn’t made official). Although the Snapdragon 625 had an octa-core setup, it was a downgrade from the 650 SoC since the cores weren’t as powerful as the ones used on the 650 SoC. The same happened with the Mi Mix. Although the Mi Mix launched with Snapdragon 652 SoC, a slightly better SoC than the 652 with two more cores, Mi Mix 2 was also launched with a Snapdragon 625. Although the Snapdragon 625 is by no means a bad processor, it’s disappointing to know that Xiaomi didn’t update the phones with the latest processors available. One reason why Xiaomi must’ve stuck with the Snapdragon 625 could’ve been the volume discounts it got on placing a bulk order.
So until we consumers actually become aware of the difference between what we want and what we get, these practices will keep on going. Consumers need to know that their phones start to show signs of age, not because they’re actually old but because they’re made such that the next generation of smartphones become more attractive and lucid. The usual norm of discarding a phone every year, needs to be and can be done away with if companies become more ethical and consumers more aware.