Domestic handset brands attracts design house Longcheer to set shop in India

17 May

India is not only the fastest growing cellphone market by new subscriber additions but is also the second largest handset market in the world with about 15 million new handsets sold every month. No wonder, Indian entrepreneurs and business houses have stepped in with their own handset brands complete with their high-profile brand ambassadors and massive marketing budgets that sponsor cricket tournaments and teams.

Micromax, a domestic brand, which began retailing its range of cellphones in 2008 is today India’s third largest handset brand and sells over a million units a month, slightly behind Samsung. The company was one of the sponsors of the recently-concluded IPL cricket tournament and has Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador.

Wynn Telecom, a newly-launched handset brand in India, has already roped in Bollywood actors Saif Ali Khan and Bipasha Basu as its brand ambassadors and claims that it will have the largest service centre footprint in the country. The company is yet to launch its handset in the market.

These are just two examples. There are many such handset brands in India, which operate only in India and are making global handset brands like Nokia and Samsung nervous. And this is exactly the kind of market that a design house like Longcheer thrives in.

Longcheer is a Singapore-based design house that designs mobile phones and related products like USB modems and data cards for other brands. The company has set shop in Noida near New Delhi with an aim to hire about 30-40 employees. Manu Nagar, the CEO of the Indian subsidary, has about 15 years of experience in this industry with his last stint being with MediaTek, the company on whose chipset platform most of these handsets from domestic brands work. Thanks to his MediaTek days, Nagar knows the needs of these handset brands and what it will take for them to thrive when competing with global handset vendors that ship over a hundred million units every year.

“Domestic brands can provide customised products aimed at local markets that these big players cannot. For instance, we can help a brand launch phones with local language keypads for individual markets throughout the country. This is simply not possible with a big global brand as they seek volumes,” says Nagar.

While a domestic player can make decent margins by selling even a few thousand units of a phone model, for a global player, the number is usually hundreds of thousands every month.

Take the dual-SIM phenomenon, which has become a very crucial feature in India thanks to the sheer number of carriers and the ensuing tariff wars. However, Nokia is yet to launch a dual-SIM phone as it fails to respond to local market needs. On his recent trip to India, Nokia’s Anssi Vanjoki, now the head of the company’s smartphone business, told us that the company has to look at the complete ecosystem, which includes carriers, before announcing a product. (Carriers resent dual-SIM phones for obvious reasons.)

But are domestic handset brands mature enough to spend some serious money to get their own industrial designs and user interfaces? After all, they have done pretty well for themselves by shopping in the streets of Shenzen and placing orders with OEMs that churn out an existing model and simply re-brand them. Nagar thinks they are. “We are already working with a couple of players,” he informs us. Wynn Telecom today announced its partnership with Longcheer and the other major player is anyone’s guess.

One area where we don’t necessarily agree is when it comes to blatant copying of both industrial design and user interfaces of major handset brands by these domestic players. Pick up any QWERTY keyboard phone from these domestic brands and nine-out-of-ten of them will look like a BlackBerry handled and almost all of them would have a BlackBerry-like user interface

Longcheer’s Nagar feels that there is a difference between ‘same’ and ‘similar.’ We agree that there might be a blurry line that separates the two but if these brands are really thinking of becoming a major international handset brand in the coming years, they need to do better than aping what the biggies have done. “That’s exactly where Longcheer comes into play,” exclaims Nagar.

Longcheer is inaugurating its Noida office tomorrow.

No Responses to “Domestic handset brands attracts design house Longcheer to set shop in India”

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  3. Michael Evancho September 21, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Maybe we are not taking serious India these days but they will succeed on the market very fast. They are growing very fast and their knowledge is in very high level.

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