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India’s Micromax struggling Now

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A worker displays a Micromax mobile phone inside a store in Kolkata in this December 4, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

At a time when PM Modi is emphasizing on ‘Make in India’, India’s Micromax is struggling to survive and expand in the smartphone market.

By Himank Sharma

MUMBAI (Reuters) – A year ago, Micromax vaulted past Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to become India’s leading smartphone brand. Today, its market share has nearly halved, several top executives have resigned, and the company is looking for growth outside India.

In Micromax’s slide to second place is a tale of the promise and peril of India’s booming but hyper-competitive smartphone industry.

India is the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. Shipments of smartphones jumped 29 percent to 103 million units last year.

Rapid growth has helped nurture a crop of local brands, led by Micromax, that outsourced production to Chinese manufacturers. Now, as Samsung rolls out more affordable phones, the same Chinese factories are entering the Indian market with their own brands, depressing prices and forcing Indian mobile makers to rethink their strategies.

“What the Indian brands did to the global brands two years ago, Chinese phone makers are doing the same to Indian brands now, and over the next year we see tremendous competition for Micromax and other Indian smartphone makers,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research in New Delhi.

Micromax mobile phones are displayed at a mobile store in Mumbai in this December 4, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files
Micromax mobile phones are displayed at a mobile store in Mumbai in this December 4, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files

MANAGEMENT TENSIONS

Micromax, which was founded in New Delhi by four partners in 2000 but only began selling mobile phones in 2008, built its market share by working with Chinese manufacturers such as Coolpad, Gionee and Oppo to offer affordable phones quickly. In 2015, it launched more than 40 new models.

In 2014, the founders brought in outside managers to lead the company at a time when Micromax was challenging Samsung to become the largest mobile phone maker in India.

But tensions arose soon after between founders and the newly hired executives, six former executives told Reuters. These conflicts undermined Micromax’s attempts to raise funds for expansion, say former executives. Last May, Alibaba walked away from a mooted $1.2 billion purchase of a 20 percent stake, citing a lack of clarity on growth plans, according to one executive involved in the discussion. Micromax co-founder Vikas Jain said in an interview with Reuters this week that the company and Alibaba disagreed on a future road map.

Alibaba declined to comment.

Former executives said the lack of fresh funding undermined a proposal by the new executives to move Micromax’s research and design operations, which had previously been outsourced, in-house. The move was intended to help Micromax differentiate itself from generic Android clones.

“We hired about 80-90 people in Bangalore to do in-house software and design, but with no money from the investors and little interest from the founders, that team fizzled away and that office has been partially shut down now,” said a former executive.

After Alibaba walked away, Micromax struggled to attract other investors who would have been key to Micromax’s plan to invest in software R&D and hardware design. The company was forced to scale down the in-house R&D project, a top executive involved in the fundraising plan said.

At least five senior executives have resigned since November. The latest was Vineet Taneja, chief executive since 2014, who quit last week.

“THE WHOLE INDUSTRY IS SUFFERING”

Meanwhile, Chinese handset makers, including Coolpad and Oppo, to which Micromax outsources its manufacturing, were sharpening their focus on India. Samsung, too, began to introduce more affordable models there.

In 2015, Chinese brands doubled their market share to 18 percent, according to Counterpoint Research, taking away business from Indian budget phone makers such as Micromax, Intex, Lava and Karbonn. Indian brands’ market share fell from 48 to 43 percent last year.

“Right now the whole industry is suffering because of the Chinese phones,” Jain told Reuters. “We have seen large write-downs happening on inventory in China, and that inventory is being passed on to India at a markdown.”

Chinese phone makers including LeEco, Xiaomi and Lenovo have also partnered with e-commerce companies including Amazon India and Flipkart to sell phones directly to consumers, saving on distribution and sales and reaching new online shoppers directly.

In the final quarter of 2015, Micromax’s shipments fell by 12.1 percent, against growth of 15.4 percent for the sector, according to industry tracker IDC. Micromax’s share of the smartphone market fell to 13 percent in the fourth quarter from 22 percent at its peak in 2014, according to IDC.

Micromax, which is privately held and does not disclose financial information, maintains it is profitable. Founders Jain, Rahul Sharma, Rajesh Agarwal and Sumeet Arora still control about 80 percent of the company. They have raised nearly $90 million from investors in the last five years.

Facing competition from both Samsung and inexpensive Chinese phones, Micromax plans to increase production in India. Jain said that the company plans to double local manufacturing output from 1.5 million units to about 3 million units a month over the next six to 12 months.

Already a top-10 brand in Russia, Micromax is seeking a partner to help it expand further outside India and diversify into televisions and tablets.

“Micromax needs to diversify geographically and also needs to diversify product lines,” said Neil Mawston, executive director of the global wireless practice at London-based research consultancy Strategy Analytics. How well it manages that diversification, Mawston says, will be key.

(Reporting by Himank Sharma; additional reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alexandra Harney)

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Nearly Half of the Teenagers in the US and Japan are ‘Addicted’ to Smartphones, Says New Report

Nowadays, one of the worst things that can happen to us is, like, 'Oh, I left my phone at home,'

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Brian Vega, left, Peyton Ruiz, second from left, and Max Marrero, right, check their smartphones at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami, Florida. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (VOA)

California, October 12, 2017 : About half of teenagers in the United States and Japan say they are addicted to their smartphones.

University of Southern California (USC) researchers asked 1,200 Japanese about their use of electronic devices. The researchers are with the Walter Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. Their findings were compared with an earlier study on digital media use among families in North America.

“Advances in digital media and mobile devices are changing the way we engage not only with the world around us, but also with the people who are the closest to us,” said Willow Bay, head of the Annenberg School.

The USC report finds that 50 percent of American teenagers and 45 percent of Japanese teens feel addicted to their smartphones.

SMARTPHONES
Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, Sept. 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. VOA

“This is a really big deal,” said James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, an organization that helped with the study. “Just think about it, 10 years ago we didn’t even have smartphones.”

Sixty-one percent of Japanese parents believe their children are addicted to the devices. That compares to 59 percent of the American parents who were asked.

Also, more than 1-in-3 Japanese parents feel they have grown dependent on electronic devices, compared to about 1-in-4 American parents.

Leaving your phone at home is ‘one of the worst things’

“Nowadays, one of the worst things that can happen to us is, like, ‘Oh, I left my phone at home,’” said Alissa Caldwell, a student at the American School in Tokyo. She spoke at the USC Global Conference 2017, which was held in Tokyo.

smartphones
People look at their smartphones in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo. VOA

A majority of Japanese and American parents said their teenagers used mobile devices too much. But only 17 percent of Japanese teens agreed with that assessment. In the United States, 52 percent of teens said they are spending too much time on mobile devices.

Many respond immediately to messages

About 7-in-10 American teens said they felt a need to react quickly to mobile messages, compared to about half of Japanese teens.

In Japan, 38 percent of parents and 48 percent of teens look at and use their devices at least once an hour. In the United States, 69 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens say they use their devices every hour.

Naturally, that hourly usage stops when people are sleeping, the researchers said.

SMARTPHONES
Young people using smartphones. (Photo courtesy Kuvituskuvat via Flickr) (VOA)

The devices are a greater cause of conflict among teens and parents in the United States than in Japan. One-in-3 U.S. families reported having an argument every day about smarthphone use. Only about 1-in-6 Japanese families say they fight every day over mobile devices.

Care more about devices than your children?

But 20 percent of Japanese teens said they sometimes feel that their parents think their mobile device is more important than they are. The percentage of U.S. teens saying they feel this way is 6 percent.

In the United States, 15 percent of parents say their teens’ use of mobile devices worsens the family’s personal relationships. Eleven percent of teens feel their parents’ use of smarthphones is not good for their relationship.

The USC research was based on an April 2017 study of 600 Japanese parents and 600 Japanese teenagers. Opinions from American parents and teenagers were collected in a study done earlier by Common Sense Media.

Bay, the Annenberg School of Communications dean, said the research raises critical questions about the effect of digital devices on family life.

She said the cultural effects may differ from country to country, but “this is clearly a global issue.” (VOA)

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Vintage Phone Museum: The museum having rare collection of classic cell phones opens in Slovakia

The museum has around 1,500 cell phone models

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Old Nokia mobile phones are placed on a shelf inside of a private museum of phones in Dobsina, Slovakia
Old Nokia mobile phones are placed on a shelf inside of a private museum of phones in Dobsina, Slovakia. VOA

Dobsina, Slovakia, September 10, 2017:

As new smartphones hit the market month in month out, one Slovak technology buff is offering visitors to his vintage phone museum a trip down memory lane – to when cell phones weighed more than today’s computers and most people couldn’t afford them.

Twenty-six-year-old online marketing specialist Stefan Polgari from Slovakia began his collection more than two years ago when he bought a stock of old cell phones online. Today, his collection at the vintage phone museum boasts some 1,500 models, or 3,500 pieces when counting duplicates.

The vintage phone museum (website: http://www.mobilephonemuseum.org/), which takes up two rooms in his house in the small eastern town of Dobsina, opened last year and is accessible by appointment.

The collection includes the Nokia 3310, which recently got a facelift and re-release, as well as a fully functional, 20-year old, brick-like Siemens S4 model, which cost a whopping 23,000 Slovak koruna – more than twice the average monthly wage in Slovakia when it came out.

“These are design and technology masterpieces that did not steal your time. There are no phones younger than the first touchscreen models, definitely no smartphones,” said Mr. Polgari.

“It’s hard to say which phone is most valuable to me, perhaps the Nokia 3510i Star Wars edition,” said Mr. Polgari – who uses an iPhone in his daily life. (VOA)

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Tiny Diamonds Can Prevent Short-Circuits and Fires in Mobile Phone Batteries: Study

Mixing nanodiamonds into the electrolyte solution of a lithium ion battery slows dendrite formation to nil through 100 charge-discharge cycles

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Tiny diamonds prevent fires in phone batteries
Tiny diamonds prevent fires in phone batteries. Pixabay
  • The researchers described a process by which tiny diamonds curtail the electrochemical deposition called plating
  • We anticipate the first use of our proposed technology will be in less critical applications
  • Battery buildups called dendrites  are one of the main causes of lithium battery malfunction

USA, August 28, 2017: Researchers have found that tiny diamonds (diamond particles 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair) can prevent short-circuits and fires in lithium batteries widely used in various mobile devices from smartphones to laptops.

The new process that uses tiny diamonds can turn electrolyte solution – a key component of most batteries into a safeguard against the chemical process that leads to battery-related disasters.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers described a process by which tiny diamonds curtail the electrochemical deposition, called plating, that can lead to hazardous short-circuiting of lithium ion batteries.

“We anticipate the first use of our proposed technology will be in less critical applications, not in cell phones or car batteries,” said Yury Gogotsi, Professor at Drexel University Philadelphia Pennsylvania, US.

“To ensure safety, additives to electrolytes, such as nano diamonds, need to be combined with other precautions, such as using non-flammable electrolytes, safer electrode materials and stronger separators,” Gogotsi added.

Also Read: Lithium Batteries can be charged faster in the near Future: Scientists

As batteries are used and charged, the electrochemical reaction results in the movement of ions between the two electrodes of a battery, which is the essence of an electrical current.

Over time, this re-positioning of ions can create tendril-like buildups almost like stalactites forming inside a cave.

These battery buildups, called dendrites, are one of the main causes of lithium battery malfunction.

As dendrites form inside the battery over time, they can reach the point where they push through the separator, a porous polymer film that prevents the positively charged part of a battery from touching the negatively charged part.

When the separator is breached, a short-circuit can occur, which can also lead to a fire since the electrolyte solution in most lithium-ion batteries is highly flammable.

To avoid dendrite formation and minimize the probability of fire, current battery designs include one electrode made of graphite filled with lithium instead of pure lithium.

The use of graphite as the host for lithium prevents the formation of dendrites. But lithium intercalated graphite also stores about 10 times less energy than pure lithium.

The new study showed that mixing nano diamonds into the electrolyte solution of a lithium ion battery slows dendrite formation to nil through 100 charge-discharge cycles.

The finding means that a great increase in energy storage is possible because dendrite formation can be eliminated in pure lithium electrodes.

The discovery is just the beginning of a process that could eventually see electrolyte additives, like nano diamonds, widely used to produce safe lithium batteries with a high energy density, Gogotsi noted. (IANS)