“You know, 2014 will go down as the year in which Micromax got into Obama mode,” a friend of mine quipped as we talked into the hall for the launch of the company’s new brand, YU, and its first device.
“Heavens! Why?” I asked.
“Because this is the year, the company has gone about saying ‘yes, we can,” my friend replied with a laugh.
And that was not just a reference to Micromax’s Canvas series of devices which uses the world ‘Can’ in all of its marketing campaigns. This year has indeed seen the company not just go for more market share, but also for greater visibility on the world stage. We saw Hugh Jackman as a brand ambassador, and Micromax devices being mentioned at Microsoft and Google events. We saw full page ads on the front pages of leading dailies in the country.
It did get the company a lot of visual attention. And generated a fair number in terms of sales too. But it failed to convince one category of consumers – the geeks.
We had remarked earlier this month that it was time Micromax was given credit for what it had done – emerged from nowhere to become one of the leafing mobile phone players in the country. Consumers were willing to invest in the brand and its products, but the one community that has viewed the company with not just suspicion, but at times with something disturbingly akin to contempt, is the tech community. The geeks, so to speak.
…and seeking geek respect
And that is where we suspect YU comes into the equation. It is Micromax’s effort to win over India’s geekdom.
For, to be brutally blunt, Cyanogen means very little to India’s masses and mainstream users, who are more attracted to simpler devices like the Canvas Unite and the Canvas Doodle. But Cyanogen? Ah, it is a very geek thing, this amazingly customisable version of Android that lets you do just about anything with your phone and has a thriving community of its own.
Which is why many believe that Micromax not only took it to its heart, but even came out with a new brand – YU – for devices that will run on it in India. And as OnePlus found out to its cost, it is a right that is available to no other manufacturer in India. As things stand right now, in the country, Micromax is the only phone manufacturer that can offer Cyanogen and its updates on its devices. Is that a massive coup in terms of mainline users? Not quite. For them, there is perhaps Android One and the lower to mid-segment Canvas range. Is that a massive coup in terms of grabbing geek attention? You bet it is.
Eureka! Yureka gets a lot of things right
And YU did seem to get a lot of things right on its debut. Micromax (and now YU) founder Rahul Sharma was on centrestage with the founders of Cyanogen on live video feeds. And we could hear developers cheering – one even screamed “I love you” at a slightly abashed Steve Kondik, the man who created CyanogenMod.
And then there was the little matter of the device itself. The Yureka, the first device in the YU range, ticked off all the hardware boxes: a 5.5 inch 720 p display, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB onboard storage (expandable), LTE support, dual SIM connectivity, a 13.0-megapixel Sony camera and a 5.0-megapixel front facing one. All this powered by a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, that as per the presentation we saw, churns out very high scores on the Antutu Benchmark, much better than the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G and the Vivo X5 Max, both of which use a similar processor, and were shown on a comparative table on a massive screen.
All this for Rs 8,999 or around USD 145. And with “at your doorstep” service and almost monthly software updates.
All of which makes it quite a deal. Yes, it costs a bit more than than the Android One range whose phones are priced around USD 100, but then you get a much better display, better processor, better cameras, LTE support, more storage. And wait, you also get Cyanogen, available officially until now only on the more than twice as expensive, if much better specced OnePlus One (which will officially have to get rid of it in the coming months, although only in India). The Cyanogen founders looked pleased, the developers cheered, and although many of the media people wondered why there was so much fuss about Cyanogen, it was clear that Yureka had very much like Archimedes, delivered a Eureka moment.
But will it work?
So far, so good. However, there is a quite a formidable challenge ahead for the new brand. For, notwithstanding all the talk about it being a separate brand from Micromax, the stark fact is that many of its devices will be slugging it out against its sister brand. A few Micromax executives insisted that the clash would be minimal as YU would be sold only online and not through Micromax’s retail chains. However, as the Moto E and Xiaomi Redmi 1S proved, a relatively low price tag can push the masses online. And well, it is not as if Micromax does not sell any phones at all online – a number of its models are available for sale online. Could YU hit its sales there, if it does spark off the kind of mania that the Moto E and the Xiaomi devices did?
The one company-two brand strategy is not a new one in India. Xolo and Lava are sister brands of the same company. Xolo was supposed to appeal to the more geeky, tech savvy crowd and Lava to the mainstream one. While the founder of the company claims that the strategy has been a successful one, most industry observers feel that many good Xolo products, such as the Tegra Note and the Tegra Play, did not do quite as well as they should have because of a tangled communications strategy. Indeed, there are a number of consumers – and mediapersons – who get confused about where Lava ends and Xolo starts, and vice versa.
And that perhaps is the biggest challenge that the YU brand will face in the coming days. There is a school of thought that believes that the company will not go all out in pushing it and keep it as a ‘showcase brand’ to cater to the geeks, while Micromax plays to the masses. However, a distributor insisted that at the Yureka’s price, the company would be looking to sell massive volumes to make economic sense – “Low prices are useless without high volumes,” he snapped, “unless you are suicidal. And Micromax is a canny player.” The problem, of course, is that if YU devices do sell in massive numbers, they might do so by gobbling some of Micromax’s share. “The phone battle in January will be between the Yureka and the Canvas Selfie,” a blogger quipped at the conference. Given the kind of high profile advertising campaigns the company loves to indulge in, that could be quite a tussle! For the record, our sources tell us that YU will be sticking mainly to online campaigns.
Either way, however, we do not see the consumer losing. Cyanogen might appeal more to the geeks, but the specs of the Yureka at that price will see many mainstream users take notice too. If they do, Micromax might have just killed two birds with one stone, albeit at some cost to its own market share.
At the moment, however, we think that Micromax is out to get the geeks on its side fwith its Cyanogen alliance, and is following a strategy that can be summed up in three words:
Over to YU.