More than 75% of the Indian smartphone market is controlled by Chinese brands. Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme, Oppo are the leading names that have the maximum amount of popularity among Indian customers. Smartphones in the Rs. 10,000 to 15,000 price bracket are among the most popular ones today. It is this price bracket that Chinese brands have successfully catered to for the past many years.
Chinese brands offer an unbeatable combination of great specifications, good build quality, low maintenance costs, and all the latest features in the phones they offer. Although it is well known that Chinese phone brands bring serious privacy issues and are very aggressive in terms of their data collection, the commoner in India is seeing such phones quickly becoming an integral part of their lives. The result is significant growth for all leading Chinese smartphone brands in India. Xiaomi showed 6% YoY growth in Q1 2020, while Vivo grew 40% YoY in the same period. Realme on the other hand grew 119% and Oppo registered an 83% increase in shipments.
All this seems normal until you arrive at the question, as to why doesn’t India have its own smartphone giant? The obvious reason for this is the manufacturing superiority that China has over India. It also has a strong technology sector that can quickly churn out new features for any phone they plan to launch. Now, in times when it is becoming increasingly hard to rely on China and its products, and the calls for India to become self-reliant in every sector are reaching a fever pitch, let’s look at how Indian companies can build a global smartphone giant that is vocal for local.
If you can’t build it, buy it.
Until a few years ago, Blackberry was one of the most popular smartphone brands in the world. Few bad management decisions and multiple failed products later, Blackberry currently has a valuation of a little more than USD 2 Billion. What makes the company special is its ability to deliver on robust, easy to use and highly secure mobile platforms that are used by the world’s leading Militaries and administrations even today. Its messaging platform is considered one of the most secure for private, and encrypted messaging.
Quite recently the company also dabbled with Android as an OS option for its newer smartphones. This means that in addition to producing great hardware, the company now has proven capabilities in developing for the Android platform too.
It is Blackberry that a leading business house in India should actively seek to acquire. In October last year, Forbes had published an article stating how Blackberry was an attractive acquisition at only USD 5 per share.
Now, imagine that the acquisition has already been done by an Indian company. What do they do next? Blackberry has over the decades amassed a mountain of Intellectual Property in core wireless communications, operating systems, networking infrastructure and cybersecurity. This can be readily put to the service of the country. It also has close to 40,000 patents related to secure communications and IoT.
Assuming that the acquirer successfully retains the core team at Blackberry, they can move ahead with launching affordable smartphones for the Indian market. Looking at the ground realities, it could be wise to launch Android phones for the mass market in the Rs. 10,000-15,000 price bracket. The company can also look at tying up with enterprises to offer secure smartphones that run their proprietary Blackberry OS. The brand can be marketed as an Indian brand that cares about the privacy of every Indian citizen. Considering its background in producing good quality hardware, and the infrastructure available in India for manufacturing smartphones, India can even incentivize or subsidise components for the company to create affordable smartphones that can break the monopoly of Chinese brands.
So, who’s the acquirer then?
This is the big question. Who or which business house in India will take this huge risk that could potentially be a game changer? In my opinion, the best choice for this would be Jio. Considering its deep pockets and wide acceptance as a telecom company, Jio can even look at rebranding the phones as Jio Blackberry for the Indian market. The company has over the past few weeks attracted billions in investments from some of the world’s leading investors. A company like blackberry with its great track record in technology can be a welcome addition to Jio’s already potent arsenal of great products and services.
Another great suitor can be the TATA group of companies. Considering the goodwill that the company enjoys in India, and its past expertise in telecommunication, it is high time that Tata looked at creating a great smartphone brand for us Indians.
Big dreams come with big challenges
All this sounds great on paper. But the reality is that any Indian company or business house will be taking a huge risk in doing this. But if the company can market itself as one that is working to make the dream of Atmanirbhar Bharat a reality, a great amount of public goodwill can be built to help the brand succeed. Considering our familiarity with both Android and Blackberry OS, it shouldn’t be hard to switch to a phone brand that offers great products at great prices while fully protecting the privacy of Indian citizens.