Music to the ear

Written by Radhika Sachdev | Updated: Jul 2 2008, 04:51am hrs
Although the ad agency would not admit it, rumour has is that Aamir Khan sat on a toilet seat while emoting blissful expressions for the Samsung Beat 450 model. For sure, there is no beating those expressions!

There are no sound effects used in the commercial, which is path breaking for a talk instrument, yet Khans expressive face, with its new, Star Trek hair-style is able to do all the talking.

The foray into music phones anyways makes perfect sense for Samsung. It gives them a foothold in a market swept by Sony Ericsson, and to some extent, Nokia. The potential is immense. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, there will be a nine-fold increase in mobile music purchases (compared to any other format) by Indian consumers by 2009. Media reports already predict over 280 million MP3 enabled devices to be sold by the year 2010.

The battlelines have been firmly drawn. The ORG statistics available for the first Quarter of 2008 estimates Nokia share of the overall mobile market at 70-72%; Samsung 7% and Sony Ericsson and Motorola at 8% and 6%, respectively. In February 2008, India crossed the 250 million mark in terms of mobile subscribers, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and is expected to touch the 500 million mark in two years. At present, Samsung sells over 30 models, catering to the entire price spectrum of the Indian market (Rs 1,500 to Rs 25,000 and above). Sound has always featured strongly in Samsung portfolio. Even the Samsung Guru series positioned at the mass market takes the music platform in its market communications, although not as stridently as the newest, multimedia Beat 450 model.

Competitively priced at Rs 15,000 with the tagline, Next is What, the most attractive feature of Beat 450 is its 3D surround sound effect powered by Bang & Olufsen ICE Power amplifiers.

Aamir doesnt endorse many brands, admits Prathap Suthan, the national creative director of Cheil Communications, the agency that handles Samsung brands. Yet he agreed to do this one after I showed him the model. Even he admitted that Beat 450s slowly enveloping 3D sound effect blows your mind.

Storing, accessing and juggling music on Beat 450 is childs play with Music wheel and Dual-Slider form factor. The Symbian S60 OS allows third party application hosting with document reader/editor and e-mailing facilities. The handset also comes with a 2.4-inch LCD screen and an internal memory of 40GB, with dedicated music control key, MicroSD, FM radio with RDS and MP3 music player.

Watch the impact of all this on Khans face. What Shah Rukh Khan did for Nokia, Hrithik Roshan for Sony Ericsson and Abhishek Bachchan for Motorola, Khan does competently for Samsung, because hes also able to bring some of his thespian prowess to the brand. Thats what brand fit is all about, remarks Suthan. When its a serious actor like Aamir endorsing a brand, people like to listen.

According to industry reports, because Samsung is mighty serious about its music phones, it decided to get Khan on board. Khans personal attributes of innovation, self discovery, self expression, style and excellence resonate very well with our brand attributes, declared Sunil Dutt, country head for Samsungs mobile business. He is unwilling to reveal their total media spend; media sources put it in the range of Rs 35-40 crore.

This would be more than adequate considering the size of their portfolio. At the entry level is the Guru series and popular models like F250 and J210 (Rs 1,700 to Rs 2,700). Although there is a migration to multimedia, nearly 68% of the market is still dominated by entry level phones, says Dutt.

At the next level are basic multimedia phones, with FM recording and MP3 features, and above that the lifestyle segment that comes in metallic tones with 5 megapixel cameras, push emails etc (Rs 20,000-25,000). This is followed by the premium business segment (Rs 25,000 and above) targeted at style-conscious consumers who look for individuality in their touch-screen phones. This market is small and evolving, says Dutt.

With advanced technology related to music, imaging, business needs and functionalities quickly being incorporated at increasingly affordable price points, there is undoubtedly a lot of migration between these product categories.

Given the Indian penchant for music, even our mid-market segment has FM radio as a default feature, says Dutt, adding, Musics popularity, cuts across age groups. It wont be long before we see greater convergence happening across music, video and gaming platforms, the way its presently happening on the Internet.

Even today, those with colour camera phones are gradually gravitating towards phones with higher resolutions. In the mid- to high-end segment, the multimedia and the business phones are getting more popular. I expect the Smart Phone segment to double in volume by the end of this year, predicts Dutt. With the mobile phone market set to add on about 100 million more subscribers this year, the growth clearly is likely across all segments.

The entry level colour phones are now available at sub-Rs 2,000 prices, contributing to a sharp rise in the subscriber base. Another category that is growing fast is the entry colour with FM segment, said a mobile phone retailer in the Delhi suburb of Noida.

Contributing to this is a sharp growth in the consumer uptake of VAS. It has seen over 70% year on year growth with simplification of user interface and availability of rich local and regional content, new technologies and access channels, says Dutt.

For all its music phones, Samsung plans to set up experience zones in shopping malls and major traffic points. The Aamir commercial, which went on air during the second week of June, is also supported by an extensive outdoor plan.

We are planning to roll out another Dual SliderMusic Phone, F270 in the Indian market in the next couple of months, says Dutt, indicating what road the company intends to take in India.

Nokias musical notes

Market leader Nokia is making music too, with none other than AR Rahman. The company claims to have rolled out 146 million music phone models in 2007. At present, Nokia has two music sub-brands: XpressMusic aimed at the mass market and Nseries which are multimedia devices with a special music edition.

However even XpressMusic range comes with dedicated music keys, music pause/resume on incoming calls service, support for 3.5 mm connectors and extended battery life for longer listening. Popular models under this sub brand include Nokia 5610, Nokia 5310, Nokia 5700, Nokia 5300, Nokia 5200 and Nokia 3250, among others.

Last year, Nokia did a Do the music interactive with AR Rahman and Big Music, inviting music prodigies to remix two tracks from Rahmans forthcoming film, Ada. For this, they could either use the Nokia XpressMusics mixer appli-cation available on the Nokia website use their own professional music equipment.

Recently, Nokia also sponsored a live concert with fusion artist Rabbi Shergill to promote a digital format of his new album, Avengi Ja Nahi. Nseries users could access Rabbis songs for two weeks prior to the launch of the CD. Earlier events featured Black Eyed Peas, Deep Purple, Shakira, Campus Rock Idols and Iron Maiden.

Nokia also led a User Generated Content initiative in partnership with VH1. The concept, called ShotbyU, invited consumers to shoot their own takes on a video for rock band Pentagram and Scorpios.

Down the music lane with Sony Ericsson

Few would know that the ubiquitous Walkman that revolutionised music listening habits in the 80s was created by an audio division engineer, Nobutoshi Kihara for Sony co-chairman Akio Morita, who wanted to to tune in to operas during his frequent international flights. Later, the Sony NW-S700 series became a flash-based network Walkman with built-in active noise control technology.

Today, Sony Ericssons Walkman mobile portfolio features eight modelsW200i, W350i, W380i, W580i, W660i, W890i, W910i, W960i, priced between Rs. 4,500 and Rs. 25,000. The Walkman brand communicates the credibility of the music-playing capabilities inside a phone, says Sudhin Mathur, general manager, India, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. It lends credibility to the overall music experience. New launches include the W350 with music at your fingertips, W760 with stereo speakers with surround sound and the W980, featuring a ClearAudioExperience, 8 GB memory and advanced Shake Control. Mathur says that ever since Sony Ericsson created the category in the country in 2005, the market for music phones has grown exponentially. Today over 75% of the market comprises phones with music capabilities (including FM) and 25-30% of the market has handsets with MP3 full track playback capability, he adds.