January 28, 2017

‘We want to connect the next billion with the digital world’

Sunday Guardian

Q. With so many new tech launches and innovations taking place, where do you see the industry headed over the next few years?
A. Smartphones, cloud computing, multi-touch tablets, are all innovations that revolutionised the way we live and work. We perceive that newer technologies will be adopted as mainstream trends in the future for smartphones. For example, dual camera, long lasting battery, security etc. — all that will become a central concern for users. Moreover, technology is no longer about smartphone specifications. What is changing the dynamics in the industry is the software that is built within the smartphone which is further creating differentiators for brands.

At Micromax, our emphasis would be to drive innovations through software and services that would add a layer to the device eco-system. We will be aiming to develop products and services which not only enhance and upgrade the life of the consumers but also empower them with the latest technological innovations becoming an extension of their lifestyle. Take AROUND for example, an integrated service offering that provides the user convenience and an easy access to cabs, restaurants and other services with a single swipe on the screen. Software is where innovation and differentiation lies for us.

Q. How do you perceive the recent spate of advancements in technology?
A. Technology never stands still, it is always changing, adapting and progressing. Ever since the advent of mobile phones, technology has taken tremendous leaps and bounds to reach the present day’s state and structure. Our personal life is highly dependent on the technology that people have developed. Technology has advanced with years and it has changed the way we purchase products, the way we live, the way we communicate, the way we travel, the way we learn and so many changes have been brought about by these continuous technological advancements. With the changes in lifestyle and demand, individuals will be more prone towards high-end technology.

We have come a long way from where we started with phones that were introduced in 1996, which were bulky and had very limited functionalities. Currently, we are in an age where smartphones have become the centrepiece of one’s lifestyle. One could very easily today order food, book cabs and go about doing mundane day-to-day activities with smartphones, an idea which was unimaginable a few years back. We have come a long way, with advancements in terms of connectivity, multimedia, security, productivity, and gaming ever since their inception; and what the future holds for us can be very exciting.

Q. How do you see mobile technology changing in the year 2017?
A. Technology is bringing the future closer and simplifying what is complicated. The innovations in the handset space will be directly proportional to what convenience the customers demand.

In 2017, our focus is going to be on providing solutions to the consumers using their phones as a “life hack”. Going forward, a large chunk of our efforts will be concentrated on coming up with products and services which act as solutions to the needs of the fast-evolving consumers.

All this is bound to grow. There are clearly four key trends that we need to explore in the coming year:

Camera: We see a clear acceleration towards better image capturing, be it the better software that enhances the camera capabilities, output etc., or simply the quality of cameras on the phones.

Screens: The year will see innovation on screens as well, be it the bezel-less phones, curved screens, sharper resolutions etc. As more visual data is consumed on phones, users will demand screens to be improved and brands will follow.

Battery: More data, more internet, more multi-tasking through phones mean that users would want their phones to be with charge almost all the time. While the best solution is to pack more milli-amperes into the batteries but the trend will be providing quick charge capabilities to those large batteries as well.

Security: Two clear trends in terms of security as well. Security of the user and security of the data. With the government putting efforts towards integrated panic buttons on phones, user security will be a key trend and a conscious push towards digital payments will further enhance data security on smartphones as well. The ecosystem will have to come together to ensure that there is work towards data security both at hardware and software levels.

Q. How was the year 2016 for the technology industry in general?
A. The Indian handset industry has witnessed an action-packed last year with the competition increasing considerably and the number of players going up by a noticeable amount. This increases the possibility of consolidation of the industry considering the diminishing product differentiation as far as the hardware is concerned. Some players will fall out and some will emerge as being on top.

From disruptive innovations in technology, design and price, to 4G becoming a trend, the mobile industry in the country proved to be one of the most dynamic in the last one year with major action happening in the internet services and startup space. All these developments further add to the fact that India is one of the most attractive and sought-after markets all set to overtake the US to becoming the second largest smartphone market in the world.

The year 2016 saw a lot of smartphones being unveiled under various price categories. It was an exciting year for us at Micromax as we focussed our efforts to take charge as a consumer-durable brand and not just the mobiles. The other focus was to introduce software services, as an integrated experience on our smartphone devices.

Q. Micromax is one of the largest domestic companies making handsets in the low-cost phone segment in India. Why hasn’t Micromax entered the high-price segment yet?
A. We focus on coming up with products across price points for consumers who always look for innovations that directly address their needs, and consider a brand as an extension of their lifestyle. Hence, we have been democratising technology for the masses without considering price points. We are a range player and we not only have smartphones across price points but also have diversified our business into LED televisions, air conditioners and tablets.

Q. With many Chinese players entering the Indian market, how tough do you think is the competition going to get now?
A. We take our competitors very seriously and are very well in tune to the developments in the market. Micromax as a brand is very well accepted in the country. We have taken up the task/responsibility of connecting the next billion to the digital world, which is going on track. We have initiated campaigns to accelerate smartphone adoption in the country, with focus specifically on affordable smartphones and are driving the growth of 4G VoLTE in the country. Also, a large chunk of our efforts are now concentrated on introducing products and services which act as solutions to the needs of the fast-evolving consumers, empowering them with the latest technological innovations and eventually becoming an extension of their lifestyle.

Over the past one year, the entire industry has seen our focus on software services as we have invested in some of the growing services start-ups including Transerv, Ixigo, MiMedia, Gaana, HealthifyMe and Scandid to name a few. We plan to create differentiation for the brand by offering services which empower users to do much more with their smart devices. You have already seen this transformation in the form of AROUND — which aggregates information from various popular apps across categories like food, travel, shopping, cabs, cricket, news and weather, and publishes it in a native environment on the device. We are the first and only brand in India that is thinking about simplifying users’ lives and bringing out the most common tasks that people perform on their phones and helping them to do it easily and more conveniently; be it ordering food, or comparison shopping the web, without installing a plethora of apps.

Q. How did you come up with your venture?
A. When I started my career, software space was booming. So I, along with my three friends, Rajesh, Sumeet and Vikas, were trying to figure out something to do with software services. Hence, we decided to launch the company Micromax Software in 2000. The industry at that time was pretty dynamic. Business grew quickly and we soon found a partner for our M2M (Machine to Machine) business in the form of Nokia and that helped us get more big-ticket clients like Airtel.

After our success in the software space, the idea of getting into hardware space especially mobile phones, struck me when I was travelling to one of the villages in West Bengal. I encountered a line of people outside a roadside shop who were patiently waiting to recharge their phones for Rs 25 as inefficient phone batteries died frequently and villages lacked power supply. I came back from that trip thinking about coming up with a phone with long-lasting batteries.

What happened later was history. We introduced just 10,000 units of the 30-day-long battery backup phone. Since then there is no looking back. We steadily focused on everything that the Indian consumer wanted, stayed close to reality, identified the gaps and introduced products that were first in the category including the Dual SIM, the QWERTY phone, universal remote control mobile phones and first quad-core budget smartphone. Today, our company is the largest Indian handset brand in the country and the 10th largest mobile brand in the world.

Q. How tough is it to survive in this cut-throat industry?
A. The market is on fire right now and we love it as it gives us an opportunity to consistently reinvent ourselves. I believe that whoever converts a smartphone to an intelligent phone, which tells you what to eat, when and how much to exercise, and what to wear or watch, is going to win this game. The future is phone plus ecosystem plus services and we are working towards providing our consumers with a host of software services which will truly make their experience “SMART”. We plan to create differentiation for the brand by offering services which empower users to do much more with their smart devices.

Q. Now, Micromax is set to enter strategic partnership with digital payments company TranServ and global payments technology major Visa to offer next generation payments solutions in India. Is this move that was planned ahead of demonetisation going to reap huge benefits?
A. Our efforts started six months ago, when we started working with TranServ on our native wallet Udio to enable simplified digital solutions for our consumers. Very recently Visa has also partnered with Micromax to bring mVisa to the Udio wallet. Native users will be able to access the wallet and participate in a cashless economy. In days to come, we will witness a significant change in the payment habits of the consumers and as a leading handset player we are proud to be a frontrunner in facilitating this change. A mobile phone now becomes the centrepiece of all the activities consumers do and payment certainly has become one of the significant aspects to it. We truly believe that this change has to be brought in by strategic collaboration and commitment by all the industry players to bring mobile-based payment solutions for the convenience of consumers.