Saturday, 4 October 2014

Microsoft to offer premium features on sub-$100 phones

Microsoft Mobiles will bring premium features like search engine Bing and One Drive storage solution to affordable smartphones and even on phones costing less than $100, as it aims to drive up volumes to increase the share of Windows Phone-based phones in India.

The company will follow the strategy of "democratizing services" across price points in India, a critical yet highly competitive market for the handset maker, said Ajey Mehta, who took over as Microsoft Mobiles's managing director for India.

Microsoft bought Nokia in April this year for $7.5 billion, and renamed it Microsoft Mobiles. Mehta was previously heading sales and operations for Nokia in markets like India, the Middle East and Africa.

Nokia, once the market leader in India with a more than 70% share as recently as in 2010-11, had just a 10% share in this June, as per research firm IDC. It is not among the top five smartphone players, the fifth being Motorola with a 5% share.

"My wish is to bring back Nokia (Microsoft Mobiles) to the top, and we're extremely well-positioned to do that with our integration with Microsoft as we can offer a far superior experience to consumers," he told ET on the sidelines of an event to launch the Lumia 730, 830 and 930 models, priced at Rs 15,299, Rs 28,799 and Rs 38,649, respectively.

"We need to make the market for Windows Phone," Mehta said, adding that the company will introduce more models at lower price points in the affordable smartphone segment.

Affordable smartphone segment is the fastest growing in India's overall smartphone space, which itself is set to double to 80 million units this year. The Windows Phone operating system for mobile phones is a distant third as it follows Apple's iOS and Google's Android, which has a dominant share, in India and worldwide.

Soon after the merger, Microsoft embarked on a retrenchment exercise and announced that it would cut 18,000 jobs. About 550 employees from Nokia India moved to Microsoft after the transaction. Mehta said the impact on Microsoft's mobile phone division "has been minimal," but did not share any number of people who have been laid off.

Nokia's Lumia smartphones will transition to Microsoft, along with the brand name, but he said a timeline for this has not been indicated from the headquarters.

Microsoft will also introduce affordable fourth-generation LTE smartphones when carriers like Bharti Airtel expand their network and Reliance Jio begins offering services countrywide. Most of Lumia smartphones are compatible with the 2300MHz band that is required for high-speed wireless internet services on LTE, although the mode requires to be activated via a software update which will be done once the ecosystem is ready, he said.