For an hour on stage, while launching the Yutopia, the company’s founder Rahul Sharma, hammered away at other brands. He ridiculed the iPhone’s battery life, the display of the OnePlus, the lack of customisation options on the Galaxy S6, and many others. And yet, when it was all over, he stood oddly quiet and pensive at the door of the hall of the event. He might have launched what was easily the most powerfully specced phone we have seen from an Indian brand, he might have poked fun at the competition, but he was also under no illusions about the task in front of the brand he had founded.
“It’s like making an art film, you know,” he told me. “You might have put in a lot of effort. You might have done everything that you thought was best. But you have no idea how people will respond, because they are not used to seeing such work from you.”
The simile to an art film is an apt one. For, if one was to invoke Bollywood in a movie-mad nation like India, YU (and its sister brand Micromax) has pretty much been an out and out commercial film maker, gauging what the public wants and then giving it to them in spades. In the phone world, this meant delivering good hardware at a very affordable price point, with devices targeted squarely at the masses or that section of geekdom (in the case of YU) that did not feel like shelling out a five figure price for a good smartphone.
And it was a formula that worked wonders for both Micromax and YU, with both brands selling phones by the million. The Yutopia, however, is a very different kettle of fish. On the surface, it might seem to adhere to the YU/Micromax formula of “good hardware at an affordable price,” but it is actually the first device that can be termed really high-end from the YU brand. And unlike its predecessors – the Yureka, the Yureka Plus, the Yuphoria and the Yunique – it is not fighting solely on price.
In fact at Rs 24,999, the Yutopia costs more than the launch prices of the other three YU devices in the market (the Yureka Plus, the Yuphoria and the Yunique) put together. Even after Rahul Sharma had confirmed that the price of the Yutopia would be Rs 24,999, many waited for a further drop in price. After all, this was a brand whose phones had never touched the Rs 10,000 mark. Many (Yours Truly included) had been wagering that the Yutopia would be priced at somewhere in the vicinity of Rs 19,999, taking on the competition by offering a brutally low price.
Mind you, even at Rs 24,999, the Yutopia is surprisingly low priced, when you consider its spec sheet (quad HD display, 4 GB RAM, Snapdragon 810 processor, 21-megapixel camera, 32 GB storage, Cyanogen, et al). But whereas its predecessors had been sparring with the mid-to-low segment offerings of the competition, the Yutopia was pretty much mixing it up with the big boys. Two questions asked by readers sum up the difference between the Yutopia and its predecessors. When the Yureka was launched, we were asked about how it compared with the Moto G and the Redmi Note 4G. When the Yutopia was launched, we were being asked how the phone compared with the OnePlus 2, the Nexus 6P and the Moto X Style. Unlike in the past, this time YU goes into the market with a phone that is going to be compared with the creme de la creme of Android rather than its slightly more affordable mid-segment.
In football terms, we would say that YU just stepped up from the first division to the Premier League. It is the same ball/phone, but the level of the game is different. And so are consumer expectations – at what is perceived to be a relatively lower price, people tend to be more forgiving, using the price to excuse any performance or design aberrations but as the price goes up, so does the patience of the consumers decrease (a person might ignore a slight heating issue in a Rs 4,000 phone but will not tolerate it in one that costs five to ten times as much). Micromax has twice ventured into that terrain with the Canvas Knight and the Canvas Sliver 5, but its results can at best be called mixed, which is why many feel it has dropped back into its “good hardware at stunning prices” niche with its latest flagship, the Canvas 5.
That said, Rahul Sharma feels that it was time for YU to stop fighting mainly on price and make a move for premium stakes. “It is the next step to take,” he told me when we were discussing the Yutopia. “You have to be remembered and appreciated not just for price, but for performance, or as they say, ‘experience.’” Which is one of the reasons why the company is betting heavily on the Around YU service in the Yutopia which will allow users to do everything from shopping to ordering food and cabs by a simple swipe from the home screen without having to install multiple apps.
Just how well it and other features work could well define not just the fate of Yutopia, but the future of YU as a brand. For, with the Yutopia, YU has entered a brave new world, one which Indian smartphone brands have tended to steer clear of – the last time we heard an Indian brand being associated with something close to flagship levels in phones was perhaps the first Xolo device, which came with an Intel processor. The fact that Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster said that he was “super disappointed” at the Yutpoia not being available in the US showed that an Indian brand has well and truly arrived in the flagship phone segment. The challenge, however, is to stay there.
Rahul Sharma has made his art film. Now he is waiting for the box office to respond.