We recently compiled our ‘Buying Guides’ under the Rs 10,000 (USD 150) and Rs 20,000 (USD 300) price brackets for the month of January and witnessed neck to neck competition in various categories. There were at least two contenders in each category which gave a very tough fight, with victory being decided by the slightest of edges. While there is no denying that the competition is getting fierce day in day out, we realized that there is one brand which has taken a backseat when it comes to smartphones.
- You are one of the top smartphone selling companies in India.
- You are in the list of top ten smartphone companies in the world.
- You are an Indian brand.
- You launch your sister brand, which is a massive success.
- Your brand ambassador is Hugh Jackman.
Yes, we are talking of Micromax.
Micromax came into the smartphone market with a promise to cater to the common person who needed a phone on a tight budget. It fought on price and was proud of it, poking fun even at Apple in its ads. It changed the way we looked at Indian brands and actually, depending on the statistics you believe, once even beat Samsung, Apple, Sony and all the other smartphone titans in the shipment race. However, the latter part of 2016 has seen the company seemingly go into some sort of hibernation. It remains one of the bestselling phone brands in the country, but is losing ground, and has been overtaken by the Lenovo-Moto combine. It is almost as if Micromax has become the hare from the epic kindergarten “hare and the tortoise” story where the hare takes a remarkable lead over the tortoise but sleeps for a while, allowing the tortoise to overtake it. Yes, we know the matter is far more complicated than a rabbit and a tortoise racing each other, and Micromax has a lot more and rapidly moving competitors around, but that only makes the scenario worse for the Indian brand.
Micromax started selling phones essentially in 2008 and grew like a storm on steroids, riding on clever advertising, a good distribution network and of course, killer prices. And it really hit the jackpot in 2014-2015 – which is marked as the golden era for Micromax. This period witnessed the launch of many new models that did well and Micromax along with Cyanogen also launched YU Televentures in December 2014, luring the high-profile Android OS from the likes of OnePlus. The brand was among the most talked about on Amazon. And that was not all. Micromax even had the Jack which was bigger than Ace to advertise its products – oh yes, Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman. A Hollywood superstar endorsing an Indian brand! Its management including the likes of Vineet Taneja, a Samsung and Nokia veteran.
Hence, we expected a lot from Micromax after 2014-2015. We expected the company to break some new records in 2016. But like a teenage celebrity who finds it difficult to handle the spotlight, Micromax just seemed to well, fade into the background. It was almost as if it could not handle the role of being a leader rather than the spunky underdog.
Many people trace the signs of decline to the launch of its most ambitious product. Micromax’s sister brand launched the YU Yutopia in early 2016. Equipped with top of the line hardware and an eye-catching design, the phone which was supposed to go head to head with OnePlus 2 in the market, but instead came crashing down like a plane with no fuel. Yes, YU Yutopia had its hardware in the right place but the fuel of the smartphone, its OS, made it crash. The company, however, seemed to have taken in its stride and even launched an ambitious rebranding campaign in April, showcasing a number of phones at the event and adopting a new tagline – nuts, guts, glory.
And then it all seemingly went quiet. The company that was known to launch one phone after another phone (a la Samsung) in the smartphone world seemed to have suddenly taken a different route altogether, and instead seemed to have taken a leaf out of Blackberry’s book, and gone relatively incognito for quite a while. Yes, we saw a few press releases here and there announcing marginal upgrades to existing devices, but hardly any attention worthy smartphones, leave alone flagships, in the latter part of 2016. The company launched Canvas Unite 4 and Canvas Unite 4 Pro in June and the Canvas Unite 4 Plus in August, but none of these devices actually generated the sort of buzz that we associated with the brand. And from Hugh Jackman, the company suddenly came down to Indian comedian Kapil Sharma for its advertisements (even in this case, the campaign got much more attention than the device ever did). And it was not just Micromax, even the youth-oriented brand by the company, YU also disappeared. So, the two brands that had been center stage in 2014-15, suddenly were sitting in the last row and were seemingly twiddling their thumbs in an industry where things change every two – three days. Not good.
Fast forward to today, and India’s largest domestic smartphone brand is seemingly nowhere to be seen. This has given an open invitation to wild speculation around the company. Rumors like Micromax losing ground, several top executives resigning, employees being asked to leave, amongst many others have started to surface. And even as this is happening, the competition (particularly from Chinese brands) has been gaining ground and visibility. Companies like Xiaomi, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo have barged in and started breaking stereotypes around the word “Chinese” (it no longer is associated with poor quality now). These companies also launched smartphones in the budget range segment and have got a great response in a category which was once Micromax’s own – Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3 became the highest selling smartphone of 2016 and the company sold around 3.6 million units of Note 3 alone. We have heard of nothing comparable from Micromax or YU in the same period.
As a result, the goodwill Micromax enjoyed amongst its users has started fading and the Micromax loyalists, a group of people who actually liked the initial smartphones by the company in an affordable range, are rapidly moving to other brands, simply because neither Micromax not YU has provided anything significant in line to carry forward the fandom they created. We have no official word on why the brand seems to have gone low-profile and we are sure it has good reasons for doing so, but the fact that it is taking so much time to respond to not just the competition but also the rumors around it, are detrimental to the brand and its products.
It is already 2017 and more than half of January has passed and to put it down precisely, the Chinese are already in the attack mode. Lenovo has launched Lenovo P2 while Xiaomi has introduced the successor of the Redmi Note 3, the Redmi Note 4 and there is still no sign of Micromax anywhere, barring a few devices in its Vdeo range, which are hardly the sort of making people stand and stare. So, whatever happened to Micromax? The company which was on the Everest of the smartphone market in India once, and had built such a good reputation has just taken a back seat all of a sudden.
When will it rise from its beauty sleep? That question can only be answered not by the company but by its products in the coming days. It would be criminal to write off Micromax, but we really hope this not-so-short break by the company gets over soon.
The break has been nutty. It is time for guts and glory, surely?