The fast and the furious

Written by Malabika Sarkar | Malabika Sarkar | Updated: Apr 5 2010, 03:42am hrs
Delhi University student Praveen Sharma yearns for a QWERTY phone, which he says is not merely a cell phone, but a social networking tool. Its easy to operate, fast and has changed the whole mobile experience. You can even label it a computer, says the 22-year-old. He is typical of the new generation potential customers that mobile phone manufacturers are interested in. Till recently, typical users of phones with QWERTY keyboards used to be corporate and those that relied on mobile e-mail. However, with the emergence of online social networking on cell phones and the availability of affordable phones with QWERTY keyboards, many youngsters and even students are buying these phones. The past few months have witnessed a number of mobile phone manufacturers come out with handsets with full QWERTY keypads to grab a major chunk of this growing segment. As a result, one can get a handset with a full QWERTY keypad, which would earlier leave a hole in the pocket, for a very reasonable price today.

A range of affordable QWERTY mobile phones such as the Micromax Q3, Intex IN6611 Ace, etc, has emerged lately. The latest entrant to join the league is Zen Mobile, whose Z77 carries an ultra-low price tag of Rs 3,299. And, after receiving overwhelming response for its trendy mobile handsets Z77 and the Z90, the company has recently launched the all-new QWERTY Z66 in the Indian market at just Rs 2,999.

UK-based social networking handset maker INQ, in association with Aircel, entered the Indian market recently with its INQ phone, famous for its Facebook application. It has also customised its offerings for India with a Cricinfo widget and Orkut integration. The INQ Chat comes with a QWERTY keyboard for helping users chat with ease and is priced at Rs 7,599.

As per the Indian Cellular Association, the total number of mobile phones sold in India jumped nearly 300%, from 35 million in 2005 to 130 million in 2009, of which five million were smart phones. Last month, seven lakh QWERTY phones were sold in India. The association expects the sales of QWERTY phones to go up to seven-eight million and smartphones would go up to eight-nine million by this year-end.

An increasing number of people using social networking sites, messenger and e-mail on the move has given a major push to the market of phones with QWERTY keypads. The popularity of these phones can be judged by the fact that sales of these phones have grown 150% in the past one year. Even cursory studies indicate that T9 mobiles are good for sending an SMS, but when it comes to have longer chats with friends from Facebook or Orkut, a QWERTY mobile does it best, leading to increasing demand. To tap this segment, we are planning to launch series of QWERTY phones and will set a benchmark in this segment, says Deepesh Gupta, MD of Zen Mobiles. In addition, we are supporting our customers with after-sales service. We prop up our customers with 200 service centres, of which we own 26. We plan to have 400 centres by this year-end, which should suffice in terms of supporting our sales volumes, he adds.

Increasingly the consumer need to access social networking sites and instant messaging while on the move has fuelled the growth of mobile phones with QWERTY keypads, says Ranjit Yadav, director (mobile and IT), Samsung India. The need to stay connected is driving the messaging platform, with the handsets being Touch, Touch plus QWERTY or just QWERTY, depending on the user segment. At one level, the buyers are the youth, who increasingly want to access SNS/IM while being on the move and frequently use the messaging feature. On the other hand, there are business users, who use the smartphone applications like push e-mail, etc.

Major handset makers are gearing up for tough competition as similar offerings are now being delivered to the consumers in terms of features, experiences and solutions that are packed in the devices at a very low price. It is going to be a challenge for other brands to match this products features and quality and especially when its available at this price, claims Gupta.

A study on the smartphone market in India last year by Frost & Sullivan shows that revenue from smartphones in India in FY2008 was Rs 9,680 crore, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.3% from FY2008 to FY2015 and reach Rs 33,223 crore. There are no specific figures to show QWERTY market growth. However, industry sources are expecting around 60-80% growth in the next three-four years in the smartphone market, including QWERTY phones.

Almost every brand, especially the new and upcoming ones, has a portfolio of QWERTY phones. However, what will really matter eventually is what extra a user can get apart from the keyboard. There are QWERTY phones in every segment. Olive has one for about Rs 2,000. But, a QWERTY keypad alone doesnt justify the price of the phone. There are other specifications-battery, display, camera, connectivity and similar things that actually define the cost of a phone, says Rajat Agrawal, industry expert and editor, CellPassion Magazine.

Leading handset manufacturer Nokia aims to make them available to more consumers across the board at affordable price points. With increasing options, it is the consumer who stands to gain the most. Being the largest player in the industry, we will continue to strengthen our position in this segment by providing a range of exciting devices and solutions to a broader range of consumers at newer price points, says Vineet Taneja, director-marketing, Nokia India.

The demand for QWERTY phone has invited new players in the market; however, I would not look at only QWERTY as a driver at one single point, but the whole package of the smartphone, says Satchit Gayakwad, spokesperson for Research In Motion India. He adds The kind of value that one gets out of BlackBerry is just not about Facebook and Twitter, but the whole brand value that BlackBerry offers. However, it is known that that the best QWERTY devices are from BlackBerry itself.

QWERTY phones will become very big.

What we have to see is how the new entrants bring competition in a wholesome manner. It depends on how consumers realise that they are delivering value. In fact, these companies are delivering great value. Therefore, competition helps in improving competence, says Pankaj Mohindroo, national president, Indian Cellular Association.

As per industry analysts, the market for QWERTY phones is more influential. I think the social media platform is one application that comes bundled with any smartphone today. Therefore, I agree that this must be one of the reasons for sales of QWERTY phones going up. However, there are other applications also that contribute to the sales of smartphones in India. We can see the trend picking up more in another 12 to 18 months, says Girish Trivedi, deputy director, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan, South Asia and Middle East.

Looking ahead, do not be surprised if a non-QWERTY phone becomes a rarity.