It will be twenty years in 2024 since the late C.K. Prahalad propounded his disruptive economic theory that ‘fortune lies at the bottom of the pyramid’, that is, the fastest growing markets could sometimes be found among the least well-off sections of society.
And for all these two decades, that remained a truism in the business of mobile phones, where so-called ‘feature phones’ and entry level smart phones presented the biggest opportunity for handset manufacturers, in developing economies like India.
No longer true.
Recent weeks are turning such theories upside down, even as Samsung last week launched what is arguably the world’s most advanced mobile handset – the Galaxy S 24 -- at an event in the heart of the US Silicon Valley, San Jose. The S24 is the first mobile phone anywhere, that has seized the ‘AI moment’ – it has put artificial intelligence capability directly in the phone rather than extending an Internet umbilical to a cloud resource. Among early AI features it offers is more intuitive chat, gesture-driven “Circle to Search” with Google, and Generative AI-fuelled photo editing.
World’s largest phonefactory – in India
An overlooked India connection in this launch came to light in an interview that Samsung’s South West Asia CEO J.B. Park gave the Economic Times, on the day the S24 was launched. He stated unequivocally: “These (the Galaxy S24s) are 100% made in the Noida factory – and importantly, we are exporting these devices globally.”
That is not imply that Samsung will not make these AI phones in other plants, but it makes sense to use its Noida facility in the Indian National Capital Region (NCR), for a lot of the S24s, simply because this facility which went fully on stream in 2020, is quite simply the largest smart phone manufacturing facility in the world with the capacity to roll out 120 million handsets a year.
It is supported by an ecosystem of 5 India-based R&D centres and a design centre, as well as another manufacturing unit in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Two technology analyst reports this month, underline why a company like Samsung would make its most advanced handset in India:
Canalys reported on January 16, that the global smart phone struggled all through 2023 and just managed to show a modest 8% growth in the very last quarter of the year.
Indian smart phone vendors on the other hand, bucked global trends to show a stellar 20% year-on-year rebound in the same quarter, with Samsung, Xiaomi and Vivo in that order, all recording 7 million-plus sales in the last quarter, that in India means festival sales.
India, the world’s fastest growing premium phone market
This alone may not be particularly significant in a week when mobiles phones are seeing the biggest seminal upgrade to AI- on-board, since the change from numeric keypad phones to touch screen smart phones. But another research finding, this time from Counterpoint states:
“China, India, MEA, and Latin America are likely to set a new record for premium market sales in 2023, with India being the fastest-growing premium market globally.”
This is a sea-change for cell phones, and good news for premium phone vendors like Apple and Samsung: a new upwardly mobile customer base in India is seemingly emerging that is willing to pay top prices for mobile phones and will likely grab new generation AI phones from all who offer them in 2024. The Galaxy S24 in India is priced between Rs 129,999 and 159,999 depending on the on-board storage that ranges from 256 GB to 1TB.
There are a few other market enablers, according to Canalys:
“Vendors are entering 2024’s ‘Election Year’ with improved indicators for the consumer market with manageable inflation, a steady interest rate and clear visibility of a stable government to come into power.”
The rush of technology and market analysis all in the first few weeks of January, seem to suggest that the world’s most reliable and stable market for premium upmarket phones for many years – the US – may yet see a new upstart—India -- enter the lists for the first time.
This has appreared in NewIndiaAbroad