It has been close to two weeks since Xiaomi released the Redmi K20 and Redmi K20 Pro in India., And set off the sort of stormy debate that we have not seen for a while. Within a day of the launch, Twitter had pretty much gone mad, with a number of people claiming that devices (the K20 in particular) were grossly overpriced – perhaps the first time an allegation of this sort had been leveled at a Redmi device in India and a Xiaomi device since the Mi4 in 2015. Matters reached such a stage that within a day of the launch, Xiaomi India head Manu Jain had written an open letter to Mi Fans, Xiaomi’s India community, explaining the rationale of the pricing of the devices and why they were not overpriced.
The letter only sparked more debate, with Redmi’s opponents considering it an admission of the fact that the devices were overpriced (Xiaomi had never issued such a letter about its pricing in the past), and its supporters using it to bolster their arguments that it was not. Even the tech media was split on the issue, with some claiming the device was disappointing and cost too much, while others said it was a terrific device and great value for money. It was one of the most vicious exchanges that we have seen over a device in the digital space with just about everyone being called names, from Xiaomi to its opponents to media persons to even the Indian consumers in general.
All of which pretty much took attention away from what was supposed to have been perhaps Xiaomi’s most significant strategic product move in one of its largest markets in recent times- the move to get Redmi up from the affordable mid-segment to a slightly more premium zone in the Indian smartphone market. Traditionally, a strong player in the sub-Rs 15,000 price zone, the Redmi K20 and K20 Pro were supposed to have been the devices that would pull Redmi into the Rs 20,000-30,000 zone, expanding its already formidable presence in the Indian market (where it has been numero uno for a while).
Of course, we will know whether the Redmi K20 and K20 Pro fulfill the destiny Xiaomi had mapped out for them in the coming days (and we really hope brands, media persons and consumers will be spared abuse in the debate that will inevitably follow), but speaking personally, I felt that the brand might have actually missed out on a chance to achieve the same objective (of moving up the price ladder) with another device. A device it launched earlier this year and which has become a bestseller already.
I am talking of the Redmi Note 7 Pro.
If that sounds a little odd, cast your mind back to February this year. Xiaomi had launched a Redmi Note 7 in China with a 48-megapixel sensor and rumor was rife that it was this that would be released in India with the Pro moniker. Indeed, there were some concerns if the sensor on it was a real 48-megapixel sensor at all or if the Snapdragon 660 chip on it could handle such a high resolution. To its immense credit, Xiaomi managed to keep everyone guessing till the very last minute, even delaying the handing out of review units to ensure rumors were kept to a minimum.
And at the event itself, there was a loud gasp of surprise when Xiaomi executives revealed that the Redmi Note 7 Pro would, in fact, be a very different device from the Redmi Note 7 launched in China. It would come with an Android flagship-level 48 megapixel Sony IMX586 half-inch sensor and would be powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor, which Xiaomi and indeed even some Qualcomm executives insisted was in some matters superior not just to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 but also to the Snapdragon 710, which was being seen in a number of high-priced devices.
“At least Rs 17,999,” one of my colleagues muttered as the presentation went on. His rationale was impeccable. There were hardly any devices with 48-megapixel sensors in the Indian market, and that too the high-end IMX 586. Similarly, very few devices in India were powered by the Snapdragon 675, which was a very new processor. Finally, Xiaomi had launched the Redmi Note 6 Pro in India barely four months ago and that was still available in the market for Rs 13,999.
In short, Xiaomi had a chance to go for a price tag that was relatively on the higher side with the Redmi Note 7 Pro. Hardly any media person seated in the audience was expecting a price below Rs 15,000 and most were actually expecting a price in the region of Rs 15,999-18,999. A price in that range would have moved Redmi above the Rs 15,000 mark, without in any way affecting its reputation of offering staggering value for money.
Xiaomi announced the pricing of the Redmi Note 7 Pro at Rs 13,999.
It was a staggering value for money proposition. I remember tweeting:
“Redmi Note 7 Pro just gave everyone an awful headache. Have no idea of the math behind the price but this is…well…in some terms, it is more surprising than the Poco F1 pricing.”
And well, it was. We had in essence been given a flagship-level sensor and perhaps the fastest mid-segment processor at a very mid-segment price. It was brilliant for the device and pretty much put everyone who was planning to launch a device with a 48 megapixel camera on the back foot – in fact, no brand has been able to come up with a more affordable device with a 48 megapixel sensor at the time of writing (this is almost five months after the Redmi 7 Pro was launched).
It was a brilliant pricing move. And of course, it paid handsome dividends as the Redmi Note 7 series ran up sensational sales numbers in the Indian market.
It, however, might have also have been a case of a missed chance. A chance to move gently up the price ladder. And by resisting the temptation to go for a higher price, Xiaomi also made the Redmi Note 7 Pro a bit of a poisoned chalice for the K20 series when the latter was launched in India on July 17. This was particularly true of the Redmi K20, whose price of Rs 21,999 was considered too high, as it featured a main 48-megapixel sensor that was considered inferior to the one on the Redmi Note 7 Pro.
And when Xiaomi executives pointed out that the device’s pricing was also affected by the fact that it ran a very new processor (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730), there were some in the room who muttered, “well, they did not have to price the Redmi Note 7 Pro as high even though it had a new processor as well.” I do not know the actual costs of components and the economics of pricing of the two products so cannot comment too extensively on the same, but suffice to say that the Redmi Note 7 Pro was one of the main reasons why many perceived the Redmi K20 and K20 Pro to be “expensive.” Some will say that the pricing of the Poco F1 also played a role in this perception, but then the Poco F1 had used a relatively older (if still flagship-level) processor, the Snapdragon 845, whose price was believed to be on the way down when the phone was released. The main asset of the Redmi Note 7 Pro was its camera – something which even the Poco F1 could not match on paper.
So, would the complaints about the Redmi K20 series have been as loud – or would they even have existed – if the Redmi Note 7 Pro had been priced at say, Rs 16,999 or Rs 17,999? There is no way of knowing for sure, but most people I have spoken to have said that they would have considered the device to be very good value for money even at those prices. I certainly can state that we had been mentally conditioned for a price above Rs 15,000 – Rs 17,999 to be honest. In effect, Xiaomi could have had the Redmi Note 7 Pro at Rs 17,999, and the Redmi Note 6 Pro at Rs 13,999. If the K20 in this scenario had been launched at Rs 21,999, its price would have been by many as a gradual progression (an art OnePlus seems to have mastered) rather than the abrupt one that it eventually seemed.
Of course, this is all in retrospect when vision becomes 20:20. We might never know how or why (of indeed, even if) Xiaomi resisted putting a higher price tag on the Redmi Note 7 Pro. But speaking personally, I feel that the phone presented the Redmi brand with a golden chance to step up the price ladder. It might well have made life a lot easier for the K20 and K20 Pro.
And spared a lot of us – brands, media, consumers – a lot of angst and abuse, particularly on Twitter.