Business Today

Future confusing

What will the mobile device of tomorrow look like? Actually, no one really knows.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: September 5, 2010

On January 9, 2007, when Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs held up the iPhone, competitors and analysts scoffed. Apple was venturing into new territory by making a phone, and established players would have it for lunch, they said. Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin was quoted as saying: "The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry."

Ouch! Even though the iPhone still remains 'a niche product', as Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo termed it, what a niche it is! The iPhone has become the model smartphone, and the success of Apple's iTunes applications store is driving both device manufacturers and telecom operators today.

And Apple has not stopped on the device front: its iPad tablets have prompted others to rush into the market with a host of knock-offs. But nobody expects the iPhone to lead the 3G device revolution in India. Legal versions of the iPhone 3GS sold by Airtel and Vodafone cost upwards of Rs 30,000. India, as Nokia India Managing Director D. Shivakumar points out, is a value-conscious market. But that does not mean that Indians cannot have access to affordable touch-screen devices. Nokia's South Korean rival Samsung recently launched one for Rs 4,500.

"The interesting thing with applications and software on a mobile phone is that your phone and my phone can have the same hardware but be completely different... the ability to personalise will be the main driver for mobile devices," says Asim Warsi, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung India.

Manu Nagar, CEO of Longcheer India Technology, the mobile development arm of a Chinese major, cites two critical aspects. "For most Indians a phone has to look good, say something about them. The reason qwerty-keypad devices became popular was not so much because they are easy to type on but because they look expensive," he says.

But he also points out that Indian marketers (all 'Indian' mobile brands import devices from China and Taiwan) have a great sense of the mass market's pulse. "But the massmarket is not an innovative segment; innovation will still come from the top-end of the market," says Nagar.

Microsoft India's Head of Consumer and Online Business Hemant Sachdev believes that innovation will be driven by faster and more affordable data, or the way mobile devices are used. "There will be uses in healthcare and education. There are 1.72 million educational institutions across India but only a handful have high-speed data connections.

Cheap computing devices that can access the Internet through mobiles will liberate them," he says. The big driver - and this is akin to what has happened in the West - will be entertainment, or movies, sports and video. Google India's Product Head, Vinay Goel, says several Indian television companies are already on YouTube with legal content. When mobile data speeds get faster thanks to 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA), more people will access video on their phones.

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