Once the media at the HTC event at Delhi yesterday had got to grips with the fact that the company would not be launching its flagship, the HTC One M9 in the Indian market right now, the conversation turned to the processor powering the two major devices HTC did launch – the One M9+ and the One E9+. While everyone agreed that both devices sported premium build quality and cameras, there was one area of concern: “Why would anyone pay a premium for a device with a MediaTek processor,” was the question that echoed in the geek quarter of Delhi yesterday.
For, the two unabashedly high-end devices that HTC released in India yesterday were both powered by MediaTek processors – the MediaTek helio X10 octa core processor to be precise. And for many people, that marked a massive move up for the chip manufacturer, which is best known for being the “affordable multi core” processor for many brands.
MediaTek had come into the spotlight a couple of years ago when the multi-core processor rage went mainstream. A number of manufacturers looking to deliver dual or quad core processor powered prices that did not cost the earth (the processors from NVIDIA and Qualcomm did not come at rock bottom prices evidently) turned to MediaTek. With surprisingly good results. Even as hard core geeks hemmed and hawed about heating issues and relatively slow performance, mainstream consumers voted with their wallets for the more affordable devices. And many believe that it was this that in turn led to other players getting off their high price horses and in turn leading to more affordable devices that delivered performance without compromises like the Moto G and Lumia 525.
It might have boosted its market share and bottom lines, but the reputation of being “cheap” has been a bit of a double-edged sword for MediaTek, as it has made it, for many, the processor that one gets only with devices that perform upto a certain (often basic) level. If you want really – REALLY – high quality performance, the geeks would point you in the direction of something from the Qualcomm factory. All of which has pretty much restricted MediaTek to relatively low priced devices. It is indeed where the money is, but is not the most reputable part of tech town, all things considered.
Which is why the company has been trying very hard to position itself as more than just an affordable processor brand for the past year and a half. The change in presentations has been discernible. Whereas in 2012, most brands used to be content to just mention the number of cores in a processor and avoid naming it, the last year has seen the MediaTek name being mentioned even assertively at product launches. “It works, doesn’t it? Why should anyone have a problem with that,” Micromax’s Vineet Taneja said at the launch of a device powered by an octa core MediaTek processor. And Lenovo upped the ante considerably when it actually showcased the high benchmark scores of the MediaTek MT6595m ‘True8Core’ processor, comparing it favourably with a number of very high-end devices. Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra did not fight shy of mentioning the octa core MediaTek processor on the Redmi Note 3G. And when Lenovo unveiled the Lenovo A7000 a few days ago, Sudhin Mathur, director-smartphones, Lenovo India, actually ran an Antutu benchmark score live on the stage to show the muscle of the MT6752m processor, once again a MediaTek product.
That said, MediaTek’s processors had been largely restricted to devices that were priced at the most around Rs 25,000 (about USD 400). And even there, it was seen by many as being a poor cousin of more expensive (and evidently better performing) Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, and one used by big brands only when they wanted to introduce lower priced variants of high end devices, such as Lenovo for the Vibe X, or by HTC in some of the Desire series. “None of the big brands will use a MediaTek processor in a flagship,” was the perceived wisdom in geek circles.
HTC has challenged that with the HTC One M9+ and the One E9+, neither of which at the time of writing can be considered a low priced device or a watered down version of a more successful one. And while HTC did not highlight the processor of either device at the launch, Faisal Siddiqui, president, HTC India and South Asia, said that no compromises had been made in performance terms, “The preference for a certain brand of processor comes mainly from the geek side,” he told me at the launch. “The consumer is more concerned about performance. There are many components that go into a phone. The processor is just one of them.”
The One M9+ and the One E9+ are easily the most powerful and high-profile devices to be powered by MediaTek processors. And significantly, the most expensive too. Will it mark the arrival of MediaTek in the high-end, high-performance, high-price device segment? We will find out in the coming days.
But one thing is clear – that knocking you hear on the high price segment’s door? That’s MediaTek asking for entry. And if the door is not opened, the brand has shown that it could well kick it down.
Not that we think the consumers will complain. Hey, we all love an underdog. Especially one that performs at lower prices!