Affordable smartphones AH_1

The Great Mid-Range Smartphone Gold Rush May Be Here

January 13, 2016 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

With more and more tier-1 companies like AsusTek Computers, Lenovo and Huawei trying their level-best to establish their presence in the highly competitive US smartphone market with high-spec’d, low-priced handsets, established OEMs like Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC are finding it increasingly difficult to justify their premium price-tags. No wonder then that most of these well-entrenched smartphone vendors are losing ground in the sector, especially as price warriors like OnePlus and Motorola are spoiling users with high-quality smartphones at often less than half the price of flagship devices from the erstwhile must-have brands.

While the aforementioned mid-range brands have been among the trailblazers in the high-volume markets globally, they are expected to now face increasing competition with brands like Alcatel, Blu and Freetel giving their US ambitions a serious push. With Xiaomi also fixing to launch its products in the US sooner rather than later, it’s likely to be an all-out war to gain the sort of volumes that would justify wafer-thin margins that are usually the by-product of such attractive pricing. These comparatively under-the-radar brands have thus far either restricted themselves to their local markets, or haven’t gotten much traction in the US because of the smartphone subsidy regime that effectively de-incentivised the buying of high-quality mid-range handsets at full retail prices for the most part.

Freetel happens to be one such brand that’s hoping to catch the attention of the US consumer with its array of pocket-friendly smartphones. The company is based out of Japan – a country that’s the birthplace of brands like Sony and Panasonic, and is known to have an insatiable appetite for all things tech. The company is now reportedly fixing to enter the lucrative US market with a whole host of pocket-friendly smartphones based on both Android as well as Microsoft’s Windows 10. What’s interesting is that the company says its cheapest smartphone will be priced at a minimal $50, and even its highest-spec’d device will only cost a very moderate $300. According to the global president of Freetel, Mr. Ian Chapman-Banks, the company knows its niche, and is not looking to compete with premium brands. Mr. Chapman-Banks believes that there is a huge unexplored opportunity in the entry to mid-range segment, with all major wireless carriers in the country doing away with the contract system for good.

Along with the Doral, Florida-based Blu Mobile, TCL-owned French smartphone brand Alcatel OneTouch, and South Korean company Kyocera, Freetel too, showed off its wares at the recently-concluded CES 2016 trade show, and is throwing its hat in the ring in a new wave of smartphone gold rush in the US, now that the subsidy regime seems to have breathed its last breath. All these companies now hope to establish their preeminence as major vendors of unlocked mobiles in the country, but with multinational behemoths like Apple and Samsung together controlling almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the market, they’ll know that they have their task well and truly cut out for them.

While Kyocera recently announced the launch of two smartphones on Cricket, Alcatel OneTouch has revealed that its Windows-based Fierce XL mid-ranger will be available on T-Mobile fairly soon. Cricket, by the way, already offers handsets from ZTE, Alcatel and Kyocera, alongside more mainstream devices from Samsung and Apple. Meanwhile, the American brand, BLU (short for Bold Like Us), also announced at the CES 2016 that unlocked versions of its upcoming Android-powered Vivo 5 and Vivo XL smartphones will cost $199 and $149 respectively. It remains to be seen who emerges victorious when the dust finally settles, but customers are set to be the biggest winners, as more feature-rich, pocket-friendly devices from reputable manufacturers start finding their way into the US market.