Are Indian smartphone makers poised for comeback?

Pubali Neogy
·3-min read

India does have a handful of home-grown smartphone manufacturers. But the bitter truth is that they have failed miserably in cornering the massive, lucrative home market.

The barrage of cheaper Chinese products packed with high-end specifications, making their way into India since 2016, have relegated Indian brands to oblivion. As of now, four Chinese brands, namely Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and Realme, along with South Korea’s Samsung, command over 94 percent of our market.

Even the rising anti-China sentiment galvanised by the deadly Chinese attack on Indian troops in the northern border in Ladakh failed to revive the domestic manufacturers’ fate. As per latest reports, smartphone shipments in India hit a record 50 million in the September quarter.

But there could be a glimmer of hope.

In October, after three-long years, Samsung gained the number one spot in India’s smartphone market beating Xiaomi. This is in part due to the anti-China sentiment as well the pandemic-induced supply chain disruption.

Cashing in on this rising nationalism and also the Make in India narrative, one of India’s once-prominent handset makers – Gurgaon-headquartered Micromax Informatics – has already staged a comeback with the launch of its “IN” series on 3 November.

And it turns out that the kick-ass tagline Aao karen cheeni kum, an obvious allusion to the Chinese competition, is not the only thing going for the just-launched low-end phones. Micromax IN Note 1 and Micromax IN 1B, as they are called, have grabbed attention with their promising specs as well – storage, battery capacity, screen size, processors and camera setup, among others.

And Micromax is not the only Indian company committed to clawing back lost market share. Noida-headquartered Lava International is also planning to launch five smartphones, including the women-centric BE U, this Diwali. March next year, the company plans to go public through an IPO.

Launched in 2009, Lava ran into financial trouble in 2018 in the face of stiff competition from Chinese smartphone brands. With the IPO money it hopes to repay some of its debt and embark upon expansion.

This renewed vigour in domestic companies to rollout smartphones stems from other geopolitical developments as well.

The US and other nations’ growing mistrust of Chinese telecom companies’ data handling has opened up opportunities galore for Indian companies. In a first for India, Lava and Micromax received orders worth Rs.2500 crore last year from US telcos who decided to ditch Chinese companies over security concerns.

It is likely that the size of the orders would be larger this time around given the growing rift between the US and China. It is said that Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are already in talks to source smartphones from companies such as Micromax and Lava. They plan to bundle the unbranded handsets with data subscription contracts in the US and then sell them.

Sensing such huge opportunities, the Indian government is doing its bit too to stoke production. Earlier this year, it came up with a special scheme called production linked incentive for electronics manufacturers. Under the programme, it aims to provide an incentive of up to 6 per cent on incremental sales of handsets worth Rs 15,000 or more.

Domestic handset manufacturers such as UTL Neolyncs, Lava, Padget Electronics, Micromax and Optiemus Electronics have already been selected under the scheme.

Meanwhile, the deep-pocketed Reliance Jio is aiming to manufacture 200 million smartphones by 2022 and is already in talks with Lava, Dixon, and Karbonn for it.

Given these strategic moves, will the future belong to domestic brands? We will find out soon. Meanwhile, fingers crossed as their success would mean more jobs, economic gains and an Atmanirbhar bharat.