- Towards the end of 2016, Motorola (along with its parent company Lenovo) was one of the leading smartphone players in India. Many even expected it to take on Samsung for the number one spot in the coming years.
- However, within two years (by the end of 2018), Motorola was out of the top ten in the Indian market. And it has been trying to make its way back ever since then.
- While Motorola’s portfolio of products in India is capable of challenging the best, it does not seem to be actually doing so. What is Motorola missing, and can it make its way back to the top in India?
Recently Motorola launched the first phone in the world to come with a 200-megapixel camera in the Indian market. The Edge 30 Ultra is quite an impressive device, no matter how you see it – it comes with a pOLED display with 144 Hz refresh rate, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Generation 1 processor, 50-megapixel and 12-megapixel cameras (and that 200-megapixel camera) on the back, a 60-megapixel camera in front, support for 125 W charging, 50 W wireless charging and a whole lot more. All for Rs 54,999. Coming from a brand as well-known as Motorola, this is the kind of device whose launch should have set the tech media abuzz, made consumers line up for a unit, and caused the likes of OnePlus, iQOO, Samsung, and Xiaomi to break out in a sweat of anxiety.
At the time of writing, nothing remotely of the sort had happened. Yes, there was some talk of the device in some parts of the media. Still, by the afternoon, attention had shifted to the impending discount on a device released by a company that had once owned Motorola, the Google Pixel 6a. That sums up the change in fortunes of Motorola in India, a market in which it was once a key player.
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End of 2016, all set for greatness in India, Moto
At the turn of the century, and in fact, right up to 2007, Motorola was one of the biggest and most respected brands in the relatively small Indian mobile phone market. It initially was unable to cope with the smartphone revolution but then made a strong comeback with a number of promising Android devices in 2010-12 before surprisingly exiting the market after being acquired by Google.
It, however, made a very strong comeback in 2014, riding high on the Moto G and Moto E series. So much so that as per IDC, in Q4 2016, the brand (in combination with its new parent, Lenovo) was number three in the Indian smartphone market, behind Samsung and Xiaomi, with a market share of almost ten percent. In fact, the brand was literally a whisker behind Xiaomi in the year (8.8 percent share against Xiaomi’s 8.9 percent) and was ahead of the likes of Oppo and Vivo. Lenovo and Motorola’s dual-brand strategy seemed to yield dividends in an Indian market experiencing a 4G boom, with Indian brands fading away. Many believed that Lenovo-Motorola would be challenging Samsung for the top spot in the Indian market in a few years.
End of 2018 – O Moto, Moto, where art thou, Moto
Nothing of the sort happened. By the end of 2017, Motorola had dropped out of the top five in the Indian market. And when 2018 drew to a close, the brand was out of the top ten, suffering a 70 percent decline in shipments. Key members of the management that had spurred growth in India had left, and the brand was seen to be floundering.
Many reasons have been given for this dramatic change in fortunes. The most common is that the brand tried to move up the price ladder too abruptly, increasing the pricing of its bestselling Moto G and E series. The brand also tried to move into the offline segment after being largely online-only – a move which is also believed to have contributed to higher prices. This price hike could not have been worse timed, as it coincided with Xiaomi expanding its portfolio dramatically in India and Realme making its entry. In a market where specs were increasingly swaying consumers at affordable prices, Motorola’s new pricing strategy was like a fish out of water…in the Sahara desert.
Things were not helped by what seemed to be a very confusing strategy at the international level, with some series being discontinued, the role of Lenovo as a sister brand not being clear and new series not achieving the sort of impact that older ones did.
Towards the end of 2022 – still below 2 percent share in the year of twos!
Motorola, to its credit, has been quick to course correct, and the past couple of years have seen it trying to return to the value-for-money strategy that yielded such rich dividends from 2014-16. But while the brand claims to have recorded impressive growth in India, it still has less than 2 percent of the market share and has been stuck in that region for about a year.
This year has seen Motorola being very aggressive with its pricing, particularly in the mid-segment and budget premium segment, and releasing devices that, on paper, are good enough to take on the competition from the likes of Xiaomi, Realme, iQOO, and OnePlus.
However, as the launch of the Edge 30 ultra showed, while the devices have the specs and the price tags, they are somehow not attracting the kind of attention they should. In fact, a newcomer like Nothing garnered more hype around its first smartphone than Motorola did around the first 200-megapixel camera seen on a smartphone.
“All we get from Moto is the same predictable content creator tie-up messages,” a retailer told us on condition of anonymity. “There is no organic buzz around their products. It is a brand behaving as if it is in the nineties, and advertising is all that counts.” It is also notable that unlike brands like Xiaomi, Realme, and OnePlus, Motorola does not have a thriving online community, which in turn, makes generating buzz even more difficult.
Will the Indian mass market say “Hello, Moto” again?
Hype and marketing are, however, only a tiny part of the equation. Motorola also needs to build a greater presence in both online and offline retail to become more visible to potential consumers. The task is not easy, but then this is a brand that has made two comebacks in the Indian market already in the last fifteen years. And while it has not had the easiest time in the market, Motorola remains a respected name, one that is well-known to most tech followers.
“They just need one successful product to get back into the spotlight,” according to our retailer source. “It was the Milestone in 2011, the Moto G in 2014. This is a good time for them, as both Redmi and Samsung are having a quiet time of late. Motorola just needs one major success, and many old loyalists will return to the brand. Or at least start considering it. Right now, they are not even considering it.”
When and if that hit will come is anyone’s guess. There had been great hopes for the Edge 30 Ultra, but its rather low-profile start does not bode well for its prospects. It seems to have stopped the steep decline into which it had fallen at the end of 2018, but now Motorola faces an even more difficult task in India – to get back to being a contender for the top five. It would be great if it succeeds, as consumers would have one more brand to choose from. And a very familiar one too.