India: Rx for 7-inch Android mobile tablets?

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It’s raining Android tablets in India. Samsung entered the market at a 30K price point. Within months, we’ve seen announcements and advertising support for a slew of 7-inch tablets, at the 10-13k range. Aside from big players like RIM, Reliance and Airtel there are several others (some totally unheard of) in the fray: HCL Me, Fujezone, OlivePad, Wespro to name just a few. It seems to be  less crowded in the 10-inch screen size  with only Samsung Galaxy 750, Motorola Xoom and Acer Aconia as notable players. And going by reports, Amazon may launch a 7-inch tablet at $99. In India, players like Micromax and MTS are likely to make an entry into the tablet segment soon.

Image Source: Flickr

So marketers seem to be betting on the mantra of: Android (2.2 or 2.3), touch screen, 7-inch screen size and a price around 10k. With Apple targeting the premium end and chasing margins & revenue rather than market share, competing brands seem to be focused on gaining volumes. While there may be a shakeout with 2-3 lead players in the tablet market, their best bet for large volumes is India. Why? Herewith some thoughts:

Extract maximum value at minimum price: that’s our DNA

Be it bargain shopping or grocery shopping, we Indians tend to go home satisfied only if we feel we’ve got far higher value than what we’ve paid for. You will see that across categories: cameras, washing machines, home theatre systems, ready made shirts & trousers and many more. Unlike some other categories (home furnishings fashion), it’s pretty easy to rationalize purchase in the tech sector- you can always link it to a set of features. And with features galore in smart phones, a user can justify his purchase.  So when smart phones or tablets hit the sweet spot of pricing – 10-15k and promise a host of features also seen in expensive options, the Indian consumer is bound to lap it up.

Do all those features work well together in all the handsets? Do they provide a great user experience? Those questions don’t cross the mind of the average consumer. He simply needs to tick the appropriate boxes (camera, 3G, touch screen, flash music player and so on) and needs to know that they function well. Premium features at popular pricing is the mantra in several other categories which chase volumes.

Apple in India: mostly hated or ignored

Apple is seen as an over-priced brand meant for show offs and hence extremely poor value for money. Add to this, not many people knew of Apple as a brand up until the launch of iPods in India. To its credit, it was Microsoft that popularized personal computing in India. The reason for the popularity was not entirely due to marketing efforts: it was piracy. Up until a few years ago, both OS and software piracy of Microsoft products was rampant. Students, executives and the many cyber cafes simply did not pay for *any* software. Things have changed  thankfully over the years with the price of hardware coming down. Microsoft also educated consumers about the benefits of original software and the results seem to be showing.

With iPods getting popular in India (though not as wildly ubiquitous as in the US) Apple became a bit more visible outside the circle of Apple fans. Then came the iPhone, Macbook and iPad. The iPhone set the trend for smartphone UI and ‘expectations’ from a smart phone. The relatively friendly pricing of MacBooks & iPad seem to have helped increase the presence of Apple in India. But for a large segment of the potential buyers, Apple is all hype and no substance – ‘we can get all of what an iPhone/iPad does at a lesser price’ is the belief. It’s not likely to change in the near future, as Apple is consciously not targeting this consumer.

Tech shopping is all about specs & free

An Android user’s moment of triumph over an iOS user is when he is able to show off a movie on the phone – which he just had to ‘drag & drop’ from the PC.  A newbie iPhone or iPad user struggles with the concept of being unable to copy a pirated movie file from the desktop on to the device. Apple hates piracy, Indians love it.  Even among the educated professional lot, piracy is rampant. They have a justification – software is far too expensive and hence there is no option but to go for pirated copies. So the iTunes ecosystem and the fact there aren’t very many Mac software available for free, restricts the appeal of a Mac/iOS device to a limited number.

Secondly, tech shopping in India is all about specs. Laptop ads are full of these and comparisons are made on the most minutest of details. Apple has marketed its PCs & iOS devices exactly the opposite way. But in India, there will be a comparison saying ‘oh the Samsung XYZ has an 8-MP camera while the iPhone has only a 5-MP camera’ and so on. The fact that in some lower priced devices these features don’t work well is lost on use. We only see a comparison list. Tablet marketing

Given these, I believe the 7-inch tablet with its promise of multi-tasking (its a phone too), portability, an accepted & revered platform and friendly pricing will do well in India. But as is fashionable to say, especially from the ‘tech gurus’ like @RajivMakhni, they won’t be iPad killers. We are talking two different markets here.

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