“We know it is not easy, sir.”
Poco India’s head Chandolu Manmohan shakes his head at the enormity of the task before him and the brand he represents. The man who is credited by many as being the one of the key persons behind the success of both Redmi and Poco (as well as getting Xiaomi India head Manu Jain into the habit of saying “sir” by default when talking to people) has got his hands full with one of the biggest challenges in the Indian smartphone market.
It has been a year and a half since the last (and first) Poco phone was officially launched. Now, after a period that has been filled queries about its successor, the brand’s apparent demise, the departure of some of the people who were part of it, and much more, Poco is coming back to the Indian market. With a phone called the Poco X2. To be launched on February 4.
But while Poco fans are cheering the news, Manmohan has no illusions about the challenge facing the brand and his team. And it is not a particularly large team at the time of writing. “We are still hiring,” he tells us. “We are sharing the same building as Xiaomi but these are very early days. We are an independent brand and would of course, like to have our own office.”
Getting back to Poco, Manmohan, who has previously served as the chief of staff of Xiaomi India’s head, Manu Kumar Jain, agrees that coming back will not be easy for Poco after a period in the relative wilderness. “At one level, it is amazing to see the level of interest in Poco even though we have not released a phone for months,” he says. “At another, it is also a massive responsibility, when you consider the level of expectations that people have. Because you know, the Poco F1 actually did very well. So people clearly expect something big from us.”
And will the Poco X2 live up to expectations? Manmohan laughs. “I hope it will,” he says. “We certainly will try our best. But at the end of the day, it really is down to the consumers and if they like what we offer.” Asked about why it took so long for the second Poco phone to come out, Manmohan says there was a lot of thinking that went on about the brand’s positioning and status and this took time. Interestingly, this was also the time in which the man who many considered to be one of the driving forces behind Poco, Jai Mani, left Xiaomi. “We will miss him,” Manmohan says simply. “He brought so much to the table that it is impossible not to miss him. On a professional as well as a personal level. He was one of the driving forces behind the Poco F1.”
Which brings us to the phone that is shortly to be launched, the Poco X2. Of course, talking about specifics of the device is not allowed (“Let us leave that for the launch!”), but Manmohan insists that it will share one feature with its predecessor. “Look at the Poco F1,” he says. “It is almost a year and a half old, but it has got regular software updates. Whether it was MIUI or Android, the team worked to keep it updated, adding new features to the device such as Widevine certification, and tweaking camera performance. Which is why people are still buying it. That is something we are going to keep going. Those who buy the X2 can be assured of getting software updates, keeping the phone up to speed in software terms for as long as possible.”
He also hopes to keep the Poco community as strong as ever. “The community has been amazing,” he says. “There has hardly been any day that has been passed without people asking about the next Poco, or giving us suggestions and feedback. And we have learned so much from them. We are going to continue to be consumer and community-centric!”
Manmohan says that the process of stepping away from Xiaomi will take its own time, but that the brand has every intention of standing on its own feet in the coming days. “We will share service centers as it is great for consumers to get access to hundreds of service centers from day one,” he says. “But in other regards, we are going to be independent.”
Interestingly, the market into which Poco will be making its comeback will be rather different from the one in which it made its debut. Things have changed significantly since the launch of the Poco F1, marked by the rise of other Chinese brands, most notably Vivo and Realme. When Poco was launched, it was supposed to be an alternative to OnePlus. Today, OnePlus is fighting at higher price points, and Poco might find itself going toe to toe with one of its parent brand’s most formidable rivals, the rapidly growing Realme. Asked about Realme, with which he has had quite a few tangles on Twitter, Manmohan is surprisingly relaxed. “They have grown very fast, and they make some very good phones. We totally respect that,” he says. “It is always good to have competition. Consumers have more choices. And at the end of the day, it is about them.” Perhaps the battles are best suited for Twitter!
As we wrap up, we ask him the question that so many have been asking for almost a year.
“What about the Poco F2?”
Manmohan bursts out laughing and replies, “I cannot say right now, sir. But you will know.” He pauses and smiles and adds:
“We are back now.”