Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, George Santayana famously remarked. And well, we certainly got that feeling when we saw the battle between Samsung and Micromax in the Indian media today. It started off with some publications (including ours) carrying Canalys’ reports that Micromax had overtaken Samsung in the Indian smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2014. A few hours later, we had a release from Samsung stating that it was the number one in smartphones in India, and quoting Gfk data in its support.

No, we are not going to go into a micro-inspection of those claims and counter claims but are simply going to nod our wise old heads and remark that this is so similar to what we had seen a few years ago. Only the protagonists were different – in Samsung’s place was Nokia, and in Micromax’s place – oh the irony – was Samsung.

Rewind to 2010


Cast your mind back to 2010. That was the time when Samsung emerged seemingly from the shadows to take on Nokia, which had until then, near iconic status in the Indian market. It was not as if Samsung had been non-existent in the market up till that time – it had been running high-profile ad campaigns and had Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador. But it had never really threatened Nokia’s supremacy in the Indian market, and was for many people better known for its budget-priced and innovatively price Corbi and Star range of devices. What, however, was being increasingly noticed by a lot of observers was the fact that whereas Nokia seemed to be digging in and relying on past strengths, Samsung was innovating in terms of both price and features.

And 2010 perhaps saw the first time that a Samsung flagship visible outshone a Nokia one. The phones were the Galaxy S and the N8. While Samsung went to town highlighting the superb quality and high resolution (800 x 480 was a big deal in 2010) of its AMOLED display, Nokia tried to bring back the camera magic of the N95 with the N8, which was its first 12.0-megapixel camera. Although on paper, the N8 was every bit as promising as the Galaxy S, it relied on the less touch-friendly Symbian interface, while the Galaxy S ran on the designed-for-touch Android 2.2. The Galaxy S was slimmer, had more apps, a bigger display and boasted a faster processor.

The months that followed saw Samsung release more devices across different price points and while the attention was the on the flagships, the Korean company’s lower priced Android devices crucially began to outslug Nokia’s in the budget segment. Yes, Samsung had always had devices that could compete with Nokia’s on price, but after the Galaxy S, the consumer actually believed that Samsung was capable of delivering great devices that could challenge a Nokia. The Korean company had scaled a perception barrier, even while Nokia was being trapped by its own ‘steady and solid’ image. The Finnish kept reiterating that all was well, quoting market segment figures. But meanwhile, the writing had begun to appear on the wall…

Fast forward to today


Well, a similar thought came to our minds when we saw the Samsung Micromax battle for market supremacy in the media today. Just as the Galaxy S swayed a lot of people about the quality of Samsung devices, we feel that the likes of the Canvas Turbo and more recently, the Yureka (which comes under the YU brand, which is technically different from Micromax, but is perceived as many by being a Micromax phone, as both brands have the same founders) have broken quality perception barriers about the brand. Uptil early 2014, Micromax was perceived as company that mainly competed on price and compromised on quality and support. However, its recent devices have been changing that perception. Although not classically a Micromax device, the Yureka might just have done for Micromax what the Galaxy S did for Samsung – create a positive perception of quality. And a rub off effect is being felt on its other devices.

And ironically, Samsung seems to be reacting to the competition in a way that is faintly reminiscent of the Finnish company it knocked off the smartphone perch. It too is receding into what are its established strengths: high-resolution AMOLED displays and hardware muscle. Like the N8, these devices are very good in their own right, but the problem is that Samsung too, like Nokia, is being seen by many as not really innovating against a fast moving competition. It is being trapped in its “steady and solid” image. And like Nokia, is falling back on quoting figures to prove its supremacy.

No, we are not going to go as far as to say that Micromax has turned the tables on Samsung. But yes, the table has been set in motion. Now it is up to Samsung to turn it right back. The Korean giant has shown itself capable of innovation at breakneck speed. It needs it now in the Indian market, to re-consolidate its hold.

For take it from us, Micromax is trying to do to Samsung almost exactly what the Korean company had done to Nokia. Now it is up to Samsung to prove that it reads – and heeds – Santayana. It has history behind it. It just needs to remember it!

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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.