So it is official. Micromax is back in the Indian market. And is going right back into the zone where it once ruled supreme – the Rs 6,999 – Rs 12,999 zone. Indeed, there are some who believe that the brand actually created that part of the Indian market. Before Micromax became famous and a key player, that part of the market was dominated by devices whose performance and design were exactly like their prices – on the lower side. Between 2011-2015, Micromax changed that, bringing in devices with much better hardware and design in the sub-Rs 15,000 range. Some of the critics complained that all the brand was doing was rebranding Chinese (yes!) devices, but the consumers loved it. In many ways, the Indian brand actually made the “low price, high specs” formula a success in the mid-segment. It made decently specced and reasonably well-designed phones accessible to a wider segment.
So coming back to that world with its IN series of devices – the IN Note 1 and the IN 1B – should be the most natural and comfortable thing to do, shouldn’t it? Well, it might be natural, but comfortable? Perhaps not.
This ain’t the same mid-segment, folks
And that is because the mid-segment that Micromax so effectively created at its peak has now changed very significantly. In the era of Micromax (2011-2015), this was a segment that was defined by low specced offerings from brands like Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola. That made this segment a fertile ground for brands that were willing to deliver good specs at the same price. It was a game the likes of Micromax and even Karbon and Intex played very skillfully. Their products might not have always been up there with the very best in terms of software and design and finish but hey, they came at much lower prices.
That paradigm shifted dramatically in 2016 with Xiaomi bringing the Redmi Note 3 to the market. We have seen our share of mid-segment devices but we feel that if there was one device that changed the whole perception and expectation from a phone priced between Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 – the Redmi Note 3 was it. It brought a full HD display, decent cameras, a big battery, an above-average processor, and even a surprisingly good UI to the table. It was a formula that the brand has repeated time and again, and indeed has been adopted by other brands, most notably Realme and more recently, Samsung. So much so that today, a consumer looking to spend Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 on a phone is likely to be far less forgiving of flaws than in 2014-5.
As one of our friends in a prominent retail chain told us, “The ‘itne mein bas itna milega‘ (‘you will get only this much for this much money’) mentality has gone. Now consumers EXPECT a very good phone even at Rs 10,000. And that too with excellent sales and support – look at how hard Realme and Redmi have had to work in that department.”
IN it, but will Micromax win it?
That is not to say that Micromax is not capable of delivering such devices and such support. But unlike in the past, where its main competitors were other Indian brands at roughly the same level, the competition is much tougher. Today, whether it is a Rs 7,500 phone or a Rs 15,000 one, consumers have options from the top three or four brands in the country.
Having the spec sheet and the price are no longer enough. Anyone who has seen the design levels of the Redmi 8A and the Realme Narzo will know what we are talking about, as would anyone who has experienced a Super AMOLED display on a Samsung Galaxy M21. A measure of how things have changed was evident even during the launch of the IN range, with people muttering that they could get a device with a Snapdragon chip for slightly more money and some wondering about refresh rates and fast charging – something that was not exactly the case in 2014.
And this is likely to be the big challenge the IN range faces – that of changed expectations. It almost invented modern mid-segment. But today, Micromax is trying to make its way back to a familiar, yet new, world. To an audience that is far less forgiving. It needs more than a killer price or the flag of a nation. Even Micromax founder Rahul Sharma seemed to realize it, as he said during the launch:
“Product ka jawaab sirf product se hi diya jaa sakta hai…” (“Only a product can counter a product…”)
The time to deliver a “jawaab” (counter, reply) is coming. A lot depends on the performance of IN, simply because Micromax has been out for a while. Pun intended.