It was supposed to be the impossible frontier for the two bitter rivals, and fellow value for money “budget brands.” For all their differences, Redmi and Realme were perceived as being targeted squarely at the mid- and lower segments of the smartphone market. And to be fair those segments are where they made their biggest gains.
So when in 2019, both Redmi and Realme decided to move up the price ladder with the K20 series and the X2 Pro, respectively, their efforts were met with some cynicism. Yes, the phones generally got good reviews but the perceived wisdom was that the two brands were so deeply entrenched as budget propositions that most consumers would not easily accept higher-priced offerings from them and would instead lean towards better known higher price segment players such as Oppo, Vivo, Samsung and of course, that darling of budget flagship lovers, OnePlus.
And with neither actually talking too much about how well the devices had done – and both have a tendency to overcommunicate success – the feeling in most quarters was that the Redmi K20 series and the Realme X2 Pro had not really done too well. It was a convenient assumption by most of us. After all, it tied in with what so many of us had thought – that neither brand would be easily accepted beyond a certain price point (roughly around Rs 17,000). In fact, there had been a lot of negative online commentary about the pricing of the Redmi K20, leading to Xiaomi even issuing a statement, clarifying the rationale behind it. Many had written off the K20 series as a mistake by Xiaomi, which is perhaps why the brand was not talking too much about it.
Oh, how wrong we were.
For, as research agencies began to publish their reports of smartphone shipments in the Indian market, it became abundantly clear that both devices had actually done rather well. In its report on the Indian smartphone market in Q3 2019, IDC stated:
“The fastest growing segment in 3Q19 was US$ 300-500 with double the shipments YoY as key models like the OnePlus 7, Redmi K20 Pro and Vivo V15 Pro had good traction…The US$ 300-500 price segment also gained traction for Xiaomi, driven by the Redmi K20 series.”
Canalys also stated that the Redmi K20 Pro was, in fact, the bestselling flagship phone above USD 300 in the Indian market in Q3 2019. Yes, other, lower-priced, Xiaomi devices had done better, but then they were competing in a zone that was Xiaomi’s strength.
What happened with Xiaomi’s K20 series was then repeated with Realme’s first experiment in the slightly more premium, budget flagship segment a few months later. The brand released the Realme X2 Pro, with flagship-level hardware at a surprisingly affordable price. Again the reviews were largely positive. Again the perception was that while the phone was good, it would not get massive traction, given Realme’s budget device roots. And again, as the company itself did not really talk as much of the device as it normally did of others, many of us felt that the X2 Pro had perhaps not done too well.
All together now – Oh, how wrong we were. Again!
For, in its report on the Indian smartphone market in Q4 2019, IDC stated:
“Its (Realme’s) newly launched X2 Pro became the highest shipped device in the mid-premium US$300-500 segment in 4Q19.”
That is no mean achievement when one considers that as per the report, Oppo and OnePlus, were the leading players in that segment in that quarter. In essence, it meant the Realme X2 Pro had done better than the likes of the Oppo Reno 2 and OnePlus’ devices that fell into the segment.
So, even as we get ready for the next set of relatively higher-priced devices from the two brands – and indications are that they will come this year – perhaps it is time for us to acknowledge the fact that both the “budget” brands have shown us in 2019 that they can mix it with the best in the more pricey segments of the market. They might not be as successful in price bands beyond Rs 17,000 or so as below them, but both Redmi and Realme have provided enough proof in 2019 that they can rattle the existing players even at higher price points.