“It is a great feeling. It is a very great feeling. But the challenge is to make this last. Because Samsung will hit back…and it will hit back hard!”
Those were the words of a senior executive from Xiaomi India when the Chinese brand took over the number one slot in the Indian smartphone market in early 2018, replacing Samsung, which had held the title for the better (barring a brief intermission from Micromax). The rise of Xiaomi had taken a number of industry observers by surprise – after all, the brand had only made its way to India by mid-2014 and had for a long time, followed an online-only model, which had restricted to a relatively smaller segment of the market. However, the brand had gone offline with a vengeance in 2016-17 and the result was that by the start of 2018, it surprised everyone (including itself, if some executives are to be believed) by becoming the number one smartphone brand in the country.
But almost everyone was sure that it would not last. Micromax too had briefly ruled the Indian smartphone market, but it had then been overhauled by the brand it had displaced. A brand that had a formidable presence in the market not just in smartphones but across a wide variety of products, and was perhaps one of the most powerful consumer product brands in the country. It had displaced the mighty Nokia in the smartphone business – something people had thought impossible at one stage.
The brand was Samsung. And such was the aura that it enjoyed – and indeed, STILL enjoys – that the Xiaomi executive was not the only one who was concerned that the Chinese brand’s lead over Samsung would be short-lived. “Company ka size dekhiye,” one retailer told us. “Unki capacity dekhiye. Unki pahunch dekhiye…” (“Look at the size of the company, its capacity and its reach.”) After all, the brand had fought back so aggressively when it had been challenged by Micromax and other Indian brands. The overwhelming sentiment was: Enjoy it, Xiaomi. Enjoy it until Samsung strikes back.
Only that it didn’t.
Months passed, but it seemed as if the Korean behemoth was content to bide its time. It was not as if Samsung did not release any new devices – it did, and some of them were very innovative and got great reviews, but it was almost as if it was steering clear of Xiaomiland – that band between Rs 7,000 and 15,000. It was not as if Samsung did not have devices in that price segment. It did, most notably in the J series, but none of them seemed designed to take on the new number one (although Samsung continued to insist from time to time that it was the number one brand in the country). This was markedly different from the Samsung of 2014-15, which had reacted to Micromax’s challenge with a series of devices and a marketing onslaught that won it back the undisputed numero uno position in a couple of quarters. Indeed, so passive did the Korean giant seem that there was even a fear in some circles that Samsung was lulling itself into the same false security that Nokia had when it had been challenged by – oh the irony – Samsung, slightly less than a decade ago.
That seems to be set to change with the M series of devices which Samsung will be officially revealing on January 28 in India. Although no official announcement has been made with regard to specs and prices, the selective leaks and revelations made by the Korean company (and the comments from an equally select audience to which the devices have been shown) are finally pointing to a series that is targeted squarely at Xiaomi’s offerings in one of the most competitive segments of the Indian phone market.
By all accounts, the Galaxy M series will feature devices with drop notch displays, large batteries, very good (and wide angle) cameras, and most important of all, these are expected to be not just in the price segment that Xiaomi has made all its own buy are also expected to be rather unusually for Samsung, be online only exclusives (Amazon India already has a page dedicated to the series), although no details are available. All of which gives one enough reason to believe that Samsung might have finally picked up the gauntlet Xiaomi tossed at it.
Of course, it is way too early to speculate on how things will turn out. We will get a better idea of the specs and the prices of the M series only on January 28 (unless the Korean brand decides to do some more selective leaks), but all signs point towards the confrontation that many of us were expecting in mid-2018. And well, irrespective of what happens, it is set to be a fascinating tussle, especially if Samsung really (REALLY) throws its full weight behind the M series. It would be very much a classic battle between two adversaries – one relying on sheer speed and the other depending on power. As we have pointed out time and again in the past, Xiaomi’s unique edge lies in its ability to harness those two Cs – community and communication – whereas Samsung’s strengths are a more conventional marketing approach (with some really big budget marketing), phenomenal offline presence and brand equity that is in a league of its own. Xiaomi might have the blessing of speed, but Samsung has massive resources at its disposal and the sort of goodwill that takes years to build up. The brand also has a formidable service network at its disposal, something that the Chinese brand is in the process of building up bit by bit.
Will the Empire Strike Back? We will find out in a few months but as of now, we can safely say that the Phone-y Star Wars are well and truly set to get underway in India.