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What's Trending in the Indian Feature Phone Market? The new features phones being launched are completely capable of catering to the end-to-end demands of the rural customers

By Pradipto Ganguly

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Only about two years ago, wherever you went all you'd hear or read about was how smartphones were changing the way we live. Almost everyone from tech gurus, start-up founders to politicians attributed every aspect of human success and achievement to these smart devices. Whether it was about booking flight tickets on the go or making financial inclusion possible for a vast majority of the Indian populace, smartphones were crowned as catalysts for all these massive feats.

And while nobody can deny the contribution that smartphones have made to the world we live in, the reality is that a large section of the Indian population continues to be excluded from the haloed realm of smartphone users. This is simply because they cannot afford and usually don't have adequate digital literacy to operate one!

The Big Rural Market in India

One cannot lose sight of the fact that almost 67% of India's population lives in rural areas whose needs and demands are quite different from the urban customers who jumped quite early on the smartphone bandwagon. Fortunately, however, several top tech and mobile manufacturing companies are looking to reverse this scheme of things and shake up the Indian feature phone market with offerings catered specifically to rural customers.

Thanks to the renewed focus on the rural population and the fact that customers in these geographies account for about 60% of the new mobile subscribers, there has been a massive growth in this segment in the recent past. In fact, as per the latest research from Counterpoint's Market Monitor service, the feature phone market in the country almost doubled in Q1 of 2018, while the smartphone market remained virtually flat.

The New Players in the Field

The entry of new players in the market along with the increasing awareness about the benefits of mobile technology amongst a larger section of India's population in tier III, IV and V cities can be attributed to the impressive growth and expansion of this segment.

But what exactly are these new players doing that is driving the numbers? The answer lies in the fact that they are devising products and strategies carefully targeted at rural consumers. Their go-to-market strategy stresses on making non-urban geographies their primary area of focus and driving state-of-the-art innovations to them, and then trickling down these innovations to their urban counterparts. This approach has proved itself to be successful in catalyzing the adoption of new-age technologies within the rural hinterlands.

Phones in Accordance With the Demand of Rural Public

The feature phones and smart feature phones that are now being launched are completely capable of catering to the end-to-end demands of the rural customers. Users in these markets typically use the internet to access messaging services, banking apps, basic entertainment, digital wallets and require a multi-lingual support to operate these devices. Whether their phone has a dual-lens camera or facial recognition is by and large irrelevant to these users.

Newer and innovative players are also breaking the stereotype that smart feature phones don't need to be exciting or offer the kind of entertainment offerings that smartphones do. In fact, some of the leading brands are also coming out with app stores akin to those available on Android or iOS. Their customers can download songs, social apps, content on health and education, devotional videos and a ton of games as well. All of these offerings are giving a fillip to feature phone adoption in the country.

The Backup Plan for the Phones

Further, rural customers and those who aren't technologically very savvy, often look for the reassurance of after-sales support or a warranty along with the product that they're purchasing. This is why feature phone manufacturers are building consumer trust by backing their products with replacement guaranties, long-term warranties and service centers at key locations to offer the kind of peace of mind that their target customers desire.

Smartphone Market Becoming Even Bigger

Given the vast suite of innovations that feature phone manufacturers are introducing in the market. Recent International Data Corp (IDC) report says that one out of two basic phone users in India has intentions to purchase a 4G feature phone in the next six months. Further, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) had claimed last year that half of India's Internet users will be rural by 2020. These two figures combined represent a big opportunity to smart feature phone manufacturers in the country who are willing to go the extra mile and tap this highly lucrative market.

As customers in tier III, IV and V markets become more aware of the benefits of internet-enabled feature phones and understand the many conveniences that they offer – ease of usage, attractive price points, long battery lives, great after-sales support, the future is ripe for this market. All that remains to be seen is how players in this segment remain dynamic with an increasingly digitized target consumer base and keep up with their evolving expectations while keeping prices low and convenience high. Those that are able to pull this off will not only be able to maximize their own profits but will also be able to make meaningful contributions towards an India that is actually, and not superficially "Shining', thanks to large-scale digitization.

Pradipto Ganguly

CEO, BRITZO (iVVO Mobile Phone)

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