A four year journey: How Micromax became India's leading mobile company

Micromax entered the mobile business in 2010, but you wouldn't think that seeing as it is now one of the top brands in India and a considerable player worldwide too.


This four-year old company went head on with Samsung last year, which really encapsulated its ambition, and has now dethroned the giant in the mobile market in India (not smartphones, here it is still on the second spot). As Samsung stumbles in India as well as China, other vendors are finding themselves in a position to move into the vacated territory. Micromax has been the biggest mover in this regard.


The new report by Counterpoint Research points out that with 16.6 percent mobile market share Micromax has overtaken Samsung as the largest mobile phone supplier in Q2 2014 in India. Samsung now owns 14.4 percent market share. Micromax and Samsung were closely followed by Nokia (10.9 percent), Karbonn (9.5 percent), and Lava (5.6 percent). Counterpoint also points out that Micromax now has 19.1 percent share and is the second largest smartphone brand in terms of shipments. It should be noted that it closely follows Samsung that enjoys 25.3 percent share.


We decided to trace down Micromax's journey from a relative unknown to the top mobile phone vendor in India.


Late to the party

It was in November 2010 that Micromax launched its first Android phone dubbed Andro A60. It was already a little late as local companies like Spice and Videocon had already jumped on to the Android bandwagon. It soon started churning out devices like the stylish Bling, the Micromax M2 aimed at music loves and more. Obviously, Micromax wasn't building its own phones, but selling white label devices imported from China, rebranded in India. It was considered just another cheap, low-cost handset maker, until the Canvas series happened. The first device in the Canvas series, the A100, was an instant hit.


Cheaper Galaxy Note-like phablet

Cheaper Galaxy Note-like phablet in the Canvas Doodle


The Canvas name

The Canvas range was the first real effort to change, to a certain extent, the image about low-cost phones. Micromax called it the Superfone with a large 5-inch display (something relatively newer at that time), solid build, 1GHz Mediatek processor (still favoured by Micromax) and a 5MP rear camera, for an uber-affordable price of Rs 9,900. It didn’t look cheap or bulky, yet it was one of the cheapest, branded Android-based handsets with the largest screen on the market available for a price below the Rs 10,000 range. It was an instant hit. People flocked to the phone, which really made Micromax a familiar household name in India.


Samsung on its radar

Micromax slowly started slowly grabbing eye-balls in 2012. Owing to the success of the original Canvas, a refreshed Canvas 2 was launched and it can be arguably called one of its best-selling devices. This was around the same time that Samsung was sweeping the market with a combination of its high-end phones (Galaxy S2 and S3) and its mid-range stalwarts (the highly successful Galaxy Ace series). The company was topping the charts, while Nokia and BlackBerry continued to suffer. Nobody expected Micromax to be a  contender, but early in 2013, India would take notice. Micromax's rise can also be attributed to the popularity of touch smartphones as against the feature phones and QWERTY phones released by BlackBerry and Nokia at the time. Eventually this category would become largely irrelevant in the India scheme of things.


2013 - The Year of Micromax

Micromax's made it quite clear that it is going after the big cheese, Samsung, early in 2013. It was January and Samsung was expected to launch a big assault on the market with its Galaxy Grand. Eventually, the Grand was a huge hit, but Micromax managed to take a chunk out of Samsung's success with the Canvas HD. It was launched a day before the Grand and Micromax sold the phone through a pre-order programme, with sales starting on February 14. At a bargain price of Rs 13,990, the Micromax A116 Canvas HD was an equally powerful smartphone as the Grand and had a suitably attractive price tag, and some better specs too.


Later that year, the company tactfully launched the Canvas 4, and timed the launch just around the Galaxy S4 launch. Samsung's Galaxy S4 already had major competition from Sony, HTC and the likes, and Micromax just piled on. It also went ahead to launch the Doodle series of phones launched at mere Rs 12,000, in the bid to compete with cheaper variants of the Samsung's hot-selling Galaxy Note series. It remains one of the six smartphones that captured the imagination of the Indian buying public. Micromax was here to stay, and it was just three years since their first Android phone.


Hugh boost

By late 2013,  the company had managed to woo Indian audiences and create a mark for itself in the market, with some help from gimmicks. From Blow to Unlock to signing Woverine star Hugh Jackman as its brand ambassador, the company tried every trick in the hat. While signing an international star made it clear that it wants to reach markets outside India, the company decided to cash in on teenagers and youths with the MAd phone, designed to pay you for watching ads. It soon launched devices in Russia, its first big international market, and has plans for greater expansion later this year.


Going by the IDC data released exactly a year ago, homegrown vendors shipped 46 million units, while Samsung and Apple together shipped 35 million units in the second quarter of 2013 in India. It was quite evident that the demand for affordable smartphones in the major emerging markets like India and China has been on a rise. This rise in demand had helped local mobile manufacturers surpass shipments by the established global brands. What's more the local vendors had their finger on the pulse of the market. The proliferation of large phablets is testimony to this. The Galaxy Note was no longer the only option for those wishing to have a giant-screen phone.


In an interview, Micromax CEO Deepak Mehrotra had told Firstpost, "The way we look at our customers is we keep microsegmenting it. Why make a customer pay for a full fledged buffet with 500 dishes when they need only five. So that’s where you need to understand the customer’s specific need and rather than create an omnibus product, you create a product where the specific need of the customer gets addressed."


A 7.8-inch Micromax tablet

A 7.8-inch Micromax tablet that also allows voice-calling


The company had also started exploring other electronic segments like LED TVs. Its Funbook series of tablets managed to earn brownie points, owing to the failure of the Project Aakash, but tablets took second rung behind smartphones.


Beyond Android

in 2014, Micromax has managed to shed off the cheap brand tag, and is now considered a peg above its its peers such as Spice, Intex, iBall, Karbonn and Lava. For them, it was no longer just about hardware, as the company also attempted at improving the software and offer some cool (although, gimmicky) features.

"We are moving away from this cheap-fuddy image that everyone puts us in. Just because we manufacture in China, doesn’t mean we are a Chinese brand. Even Apple, Samsung produce in China," said Shubhodip Pal, CMO at Micromax.


It has also shown great flexibility in adopting new OSes and opening up more opportunities to grow. Micromax became the first Indian smartphone maker to release Windows Phone 8.1 smartphones.


Apart from simply churning out handsets, this year we saw the company focus on tie-ups. From the previously mentioned mAd phone to Canvas Music phone that bundles JBL headsets and music services like Gaana, etc. It has also teamed up with Blackberry to pre-load BBM on its devices. It has also increased participation in events like a tie-up with Vogue in Mumbai for a Shopping Festival, and has been a prominent backer of music festivals targetted at the youth. When it comes to sports and TV show sponsorships, Micromax is way ahead of the pack, backing Test series involving India, the Asia Cup in 2012, and has even sponsored a mainstream business news channel.


With the Indian mobile market growing at unprecedented rate, the opportunity to grow only increases with each financial quarter for the company. But future success will be dependent on how well Micromax manages to outsell and 'out-shout' contenders like Xiaomi and the upcoming OnePlus One. We also expect Samsung to bring renewed energy and a new strategy to the game, so the road ahead looks tough for Micromax. For the moment, though, the company should be cheering its success.

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