India has a smartphone craze that is not likely to fade any time soon. In February, 7.5 crore people signed up to buy what was touted to be the cheapest smartphone in history, priced at just Rs 251. While the phone and its parent company, Ringing Bells, eventually generated a lot controversy, with questions raised over the its credibility, pricing and the eventual failure to deliver the promised units of the Freedom 251 phone (which are finally being shipped out now, the company has said) – the hoopla around the device proved that the country’s hunger for cheap smartphones is far from being satiated.
A look at the number of phones being launched each day in India confirms the trend. In the first three months of this year, mobile companies introduced 314 new phone models in the market, according to data by Counterpoint Research, which tracks the telecom sector in the country – this comes to three phone launches a day, a bulk of which are smartphones.
India is among the world’s fastest-growing smartphone markets, with close to 100 million such devices sold last year. The figure is expected to grow to 180 million units a year by 2019, according to a study by Assocham and KPMG.
“Out of 235 million handsets shipped in 2015, 40% were smartphones and are projected to constitute 60% of total mobile handset sales by 2020,” the study said.
Signs of saturation are beginning to appear in urban markets – phone launches declined in the first half of the year, as compared to the previous year. This, however, hasn’t deterred Indian as well as international companies from cashing in on the smartphone rush and the number of phones being launched in India is still relatively high.
As this chart shows, 765 new smartphone models were launched in the third quarter of last year, thanks to the festive season. This translates to an average of almost nine phone launches every day of that quarter. While the numbers of the first quarter of this year are lower than last year, analysts say this is just a function of the market cycle.
“In Q3 ’15 the number of launches were more because of festive season (Diwali),” said Minakshi Sharma, Research Associate with Counterpoint. “Typically, smartphone launches slow down during start of calendar year because of seasonality and with most of the brand try to focus on selling out their existing portfolio rather than refreshing their portfolios.”
Since the third quarter of 2013, as this graph shows, smaller homegrown brands such as Intex and Micromax have dominated the new releases. Samsung was the only big brand present in the top-five list of phone launches in the first quarter of this year.
According to phonecurry.com which is a recommendation and search engine for all phones launched in the country, 982 smartphone models running on Android were launched in the last two years.Given the number and variety, consumers are clearly spoilt for choice, even as many agonise over not finding the perfect smartphone.
While smartphones are connecting a larger section of the population to the internet, ironically, the share of online purchases in total smartphone sales dropped to 32% in the first half of 2016, from 37% in the second half of 2015, the Economic Times reported on Wednesday. This decline, however, could be due to tighter discounting norms for e-retail portals (resulting in lower discounts) on the one hand, and offline players finding innovative ways to boost sales on the other.
However, none of this means that the market is not as lucrative as it used to be. Research by mobile retailer 91mobiles.com showed that there are as many as 132 brands fighting it out in the Indian phone market. For instance, in the sub-5k (less than Rs 5,000)phone market, homegrown company Intex launched more than 30 phones in the first six months of the year while Videocon, Lava and Micromax were next in the list with about 20 launches each.
“Smartphones are one of the fastest growing sub-categories, witnessing over 48% (quarter-on-quarter) growth in 2016," the Economic Times report said, quoting an Amazon spokesperson. "In June this year, smartphone sales doubled as compared with January."