The touch, that found a smart way to sell

Smartphone tale: These gadgets with new technology & interface add to the users image

The touch, that found a smart way to sell

A range of touch screen smartphones available in the Indian market.The clothes you wear, the car or bike you drive and the watch on your wrist, all make a statement about you and your lifestyle. The latest to add to this is the smart mobile phone with touch screen technology, or simply put, the ‘touch phones’. What started with the launch of the much-hyped Apple iPhone about two years ago in the US and about a year ago in India, touch phones are now selling like hot cakes here.

In 2009, smart phone sales will be two million or a tiny two per cent (in value terms it is nearly 15 per cent) of the estimated 100-million-a-year mobile handsets market in India. Yet, nearly a dozen handset sellers in the country have already launched around 30 models  and industry experts believe that by the end of 2011 the total number of models may reach 75. Samsung, a global major in touch phone, for example, has launched 12 models in the Indian market. “Globally we sold 10 million Samsung Star touch phones in six months since its launch this year. In India our market share is 30 per cent in the touch category,” a spokesperson of the company said. Nokia has five models.

Just how big is the potential? According to a study by ABI Research, in 2008, only about 100 million handsets with touch screens were shipped globally and this figure is expected to be more than 500 million by 2012. Citing recent product introductions, the research firm says that the intuitive user interfaces are now becoming a critical ingredient in smart phones. ABI Research has indicated that touch phones will account for nearly 40 per cent of the Indian market by 2012, offering a huge opportunity for handset makers.

One reason why mobile makers here are keen on selling touch phones is that the category brings in new excitement in an otherwise-flat Indian market. They also bring more money as relatively higher-priced touch phones offer much better price and margin in a market where 70 per cent of the handsets are in sub-Rs 4,000 category.

Adding colour

But the real reason behind the boom in touch phone market is the statement they make. These handsets are stylish, their  operation flashy, they are very colourful and add a ‘tech-savvy’ image to the user. “When a college student flaunts a touch phone, heads turn and friends want to know how the gadget works. These phones are an instant hit with youngsters,” said Acer Incorporated Country Head Richard Tan. Acer has just launched four touch phones in India.

On the same lines, Nokia India Director-Marketing, Vineet Taneja said, “Touch interface has definitely proven to be popular on devices with advanced multimedia features like mapping, web browsing, location tagging, listening to music on the go and creating personalised music play lists etc.”

Today’s technology enthusiasts and the style- conscious youth prefer touch user interface as against other form factors because it can be personalised to suit one’s requirement, it’s much more interactive, and the applications are fun to use. Of course, they come in funky colours and also the phone jackets can be changed to match with the dress.   

Mobile internet

The most important reason why consumers are increasingly getting attracted to touch phone is increasing usage of internet on the go. As these phones have large screen sizes –— ranging from 2.5 inches to 3.5 inches, browsing on the net gives almost laptop-like feeling.

Most touch handsets these days have pre-loaded applications for social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, applications for user generated content like YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, and also search engines like Google and Bing and email sites like Gmail and Yahoo. In addition, there are one-touch icons for music, chat, news, weather etc. For today’s urban youth, the ease of internet along with standard features like FM radio, recording, MP3 player, expandable memory and camera surely make a winning combination. In fact, most touch phones available in India have around 40 applications on the screen.

Its serious too

Yes, touch phones are fun, but they can be useful to the serious enterprise users too. BlackBerry, the undisputed leader in the enterprise phone category, for example, has Storm that comes with the SurePress touch screen. This makes typing easy as the whole surface reacts to ones touch. To type, one needs to touch the screen to highlight a letter and then press down to make that letter appear in the message or document. Integral to the accuracy of the SurePress touch screen is a subtle click that lets user know that the letter has been entered.

In the enterprise segment, Samsung has OMNIA that comes with a HD video recording on mobile, 9.4 cm AMOLED screen and with 1 Ghz processor for high internet speed. It also incorporates the latest multimedia features and fastest data communication, to offer a complete multimedia solution for consumers.

Interestingly, this phone can also be used as a major entertainment gadget as the 16:9 screen with 16M colour and dual stereo speaker gives a multimedia experience to enjoy standard and high definition videos in cinema-scale quality.

 It is also capable of a super-fast internet access of 7.2Mbps speed. The price at Rs
34,000 is steep too. In the same space, Acer, the world’s third largest computer maker, has the Rs 35,000 neoTouch S200 which also boasts of a processor with 1 Ghz speed, high-resolution 3.8 inches touch screen, 3G+ connectivity (HSPA), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. “This phone is like a laptop. It has fast Internet access, superb multimedia playback and superior graphics for games and applications.” Tan said. For those who do not like typing on a touch screen, there are phones that offer dual interface: touch screen and key pad. One can open the key pad by sliding or using the full touch functionality on the screen.

Taking a leap

The touch screen technology for mobile devices has surely set the stage for a new paradigm of user experience. Since accessing internet on the move is the major driver for touch phone sales, handset makers and operating software suppliers are tying up to provide much more content on the web, most of them are free. Microsoft Market Place, for example, has nearly 30,000 downloadable applications covering a vast spectrum of images, music, video, games, etc. An user of a touch phone that operates on Windows Mobile operating system (OS), can access these content from the net.

To enhance the experience of the device, Nokia too is building a portfolio of touch-enabled applications with third-party developers to offer a portfolio of touch applications across categories like gaming, music and imaging. Similarly, Samsung has online widgets store for many applications.

Dropping prices

Expanding the market for touch phones is the competition among manufacturers to grab the pocket space of consumers. Not only are they launching new models in quick succession, in the last six months nearly 25 new models have entered the market and the price spectrum is getting longer. Even if you leave out unbranded Chinese made Rs 5,000 touch phones available on the gray market, branded ones now start at around Rs 8,000. Motorola is planning to launch MotoYuva A810 at this price.

Samsung has launched the Corby range where the base model starts at Rs 9,600. The handset supports various social networking community sites and has access to a substantial library of additional applications through the Samsung online widgets store and it also supports one finger zoom and gesture control which enables users to unlock the phone and execute the menu directly by drawing an alphabet letter on the screen.

In the lower price range Acer has launched beTouch E101, priced at Rs 11,900 and Nokia will soon make available Nokia 5230 at Rs 10,000 and Nokia 5530 Xpress Music at Rs 12,559. At the higher end of the spectrum, there are enterprise touch phones from Samsung, HTC, Acer, BlackBerry at prices ranging from Rs 22,000 to Rs 35,000. At present the competition is most intense in the Rs 10,000 to Rs 22,000 range, where the widest variety of touch phones are available.

“Our differentiating factor is that we focus on the total experience and not just one aspect of the device.  As the market leader, our value proposition is to offer products that are not only stylish but that break new grounds with new innovative technologies / applications,” Nokia’s Taneja points out.

Major concerns

If touch phones are the craze, its future growth will depend on the speed of internet access. While the handsets are capable of very high download speed, going up to 8 mbps, the second generation spectrum used by our mobile service operators makes it frustratingly slow (not more than 256 kbps) to access internet on the mobiles. Major congestions in the network of leading service operators also add to the problem.

Naturally, having great applications on the web for mobiles may not yield much interest from the users. “It is like buying a Mercedes or BMW to drive on congested Bangalore roads,” said a handset manufacturer.

Of course, the much faster 3G (third generation) service promises to offer higher speed but the auction process for 3G licenses is stuck at the government level. Hopefully, by the middle of next year users will be able to explore greater potential of their touch phones by using 3G service.

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