Author(s): Peter Bryer
Prices for low- and mid-tier smartphones are coming down, and the number of competitors is going up. Let's forget about the growing number of quality Chinese smartphone brands for a moment, because here come the Indian phone-makers.
Karbonn Mobiles' Android One-based Sparkle V smartphone is now selling through Amazon in the UK, unlocked, for £123 ($205) and will be available on Black Friday for the promotional price of £99. This isn't really a stunner of a price or a stunner of a device given that it's possible to find similar or even better phones for similar or even lower prices. The better-specified Moto G, for example, costs £10 more. While these are both 3G devices, Amazon's 4G-capable Fire Phone is now selling in the US for $200 (£123) including a one year's subscription to Amazon Prime. The device is unlocked and although it's rather unloved, at that price it's a bargain. Resourceful European shoppers will find a way to get across the Atlantic. Some mid-tier Windows Phone devices are even more competitively priced, and Vodafone's Smart 4 turbo device is currently available for just £65.
Karbonn's Sparkle V runs Google's Android One version of KitKat on a quad-core MediaTek 1.3 GHz processor. It has a 4.5-inch display, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage and a microSD slot. Android One devices have not been particularly popular in India, partly because of limited support by brick-and-mortar retailers, which have been reluctant to support such low-margin products.
But the real story here isn't this particular device or the holiday price but rather Karbonn's push into Western markets. While Karbonn already sells smartphones in countries outside India, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, this is the company's most ambitious market expansion yet. It's too early to say if Karbonn can establish its brand in Europe. Its products are already available in Spain and an entry into the highly competitive UK market is a key step. In addition to Android phones, the company is also expected to sell Windows Phone devices.
Other Indian phone makers such as Micromax are certainly watching Karbonn's European holiday push closely. The market is getting crowded and commoditised. Some established brands will have to pay the price.
This could cost brands such as HTC, Samsung and Sony some market share. But addressing lower-end price bands is not the ideal strategy giving falling barriers to entry. Even at Black Friday prices, Karbonn's Sparkle V is not necessarily an incredibly attractive buy for consumers. This highlights the huge pressure smartphone makers are under. The Sparkle V's move west is a test for other young brands supported by eager platform owners. Karbonn's push might be a One-shot deal. Or it could shine and prove to be a hit among some UK shoppers.