According to the latest data (Q2 2019) by global industry analysis firm Counterpoint Research, of the top-five smartphone players in India, four are Chinese. Xiaomi leads the pack with 28% market share; Vivo (12%), Realme (9%) and Oppo (8%) are the other major Chinese players.
However, over the last few quarters, Taiwanese company Asus is making its presence felt in the fiercely competitive market-in the same period, it was one of the fastest growing brands in the 'online' segment. The company's partnership with Flipkart is paying off. "Buyers know they get better deals online. This partnership has benefited us immensely," says Jonney Shih, chairman, Asus.
According to Counterpoint, in Q2 2019, Flipkart was the biggest online sales channel for smartphones with 58% share, followed by Amazon India (29%).
Despite this growth, Asus doesn't want to directly challenge the might of the Chinese. "We have embraced the reality. The market is very competitive. We will focus on specific segments," he says.
These segments include gamers, power users (those who get the most out of their devices), tech gurus, enthusiasts, and so on. "Any Asus starts from the motherboard, and so any Asus is a perfect device for those who want to get the 'maximum' out of their device," Shih says.
Over the last few quarters, Asus has also created a niche for itself in the affordable smartphone segment in India, with its Max and Max Pro series. While these are critically-acclaimed phones, the competition in this segment is intense, with many more players from China, and across the world, vying for a piece of the pie. "We understand their (Chinese companies) way of doing business, but our philosophy is different. We don't want to 'push' our products into the market, but would rather like to have a consumer 'pull'," he says.
The company's flagship smartphone, the 6z, has managed to hold its own with design innovations such as the swivelling camera. "Photography is a far better experience on the 6z than in most other flagship phones. We do have plans for the 6z, going forward. In addition, the 7z, our future flagship, we may promote in a bigger way," Shih adds.
As far as local manufacturing is concerned, even as companies such as Samsung are betting big-the South Korean behemoth opened the world's largest mobile factory near Delhi last year-Asus is taking a different route. "Since 2016, we have been making in India (Asus cannot disclose the partner due to confidentiality reasons), but there is far more to making a phone than merely assembling the unit," Shih says. He adds that testing-a crucial part in the phone manufacturing life cycle-is extensively being done in India. "We do end-to-end testing of our products in India, including UIT (user interface testing). Some parts of software development have also started here. Our focus is 'make for India'. I must add there should be more focus in India on the component manufacturing ecosystem."
According to Nasscom, India's mobile gaming market is set to reach 628 million users and touch $1.1 billion by 2020, up from $290 million in 2016. Among emerging markets, India was the largest in terms of downloads-2.8 billion game downloads in H1 2018. "We have the ROG," Shih says.
Short for Republic of Gamers, ROG was founded by Asus in 2006 for delivering hardware and software to dedicated gamers. It launched the ROG phone in India last year priced at a hefty Rs 69,999. In September this year, it brought in ROG Phone II at half the price (Rs 37,999). "Even as we are aggressive on pricing, we have created the greatest gaming phone, ever. This was made possible due to constantly listening to our customers."
With such a price, Asus is also targeting the premium smartphone market. Shih adds: "Even though ROG II is a path-breaking gaming phone, it is also a premium smartphone, with a battery that lasts almost two days. Earlier, with ROG, we targeted a niche segment, but with ROG II, priced lower, we are targeting a wider audience."
He sees the Indian mobile gaming market the most promising in the world. "India has the biggest young population, and even if a fraction takes to gaming, that is a lot of consumers. Moreover, as Indians upgrade from feature phones to smartphones, the adoption of gaming will only increase," he says.
Already, certain games are among the top-20 downloaded apps on Google Play in India. "Smartphone manufacturers just cannot ignore the needs of gamers in India," he says.