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Intex-Mozilla’s price play may get buyers, but may fail to retain them

People using basic feature phones now have more reason to upgrade to smartphones, especially after domestic phone maker Intex Technologies announced it would sell ultra low-cost devices powered by Mozilla’s Firefox OS for just Rs 1,999. 
The move to close the price gap between basic feature phones and smartphones is certainly a smart one.  Adoption is bound to happen. 
But while a large section of feature phone buyers will move to Mozilla smartphones, the company may find it difficult to retain them – the device is slow and takes time to respond to touch, reminding you of the early days of the smartphone. 
There are reasons for this. Mozilla’s aim to keep the device cost at $ 25 led to compromises on certain hardware specifications. It did manage to keep development cost much below that, but the retail price of the world’s cheapest smartphone came to about $ 33 (Rs 1,999) by Intex, followed by Spice at a slightly higher rate because of duties and taxes since these are imported from China.

Open source operating systems brings down the cost of hardware as well. The Intex Cloud FX, which is the world’s cheapest basic smartphone, has got a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen with 480×320 pixels resolution, a 1GHz Spreadtrum processor along with 128MB of RAM with 256MB total space. And, this device is launched at a time when smartphones come with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of space and octa-core processors. But the device is not horribly slow. The dual-SIM handset with 2 megapixel rear camera is just a 2G phone and the microSD support is limited to 4GB. 

But all this is really just a price play – the agenda is to get feature phone users to migrate to smartphones.  The Spice one comes with almost similar specifications with some additions.

The web-based OS also does not require much space or memory to operate. Apps are actually much smaller in size than they are on Android or Apple’s iOS. For instance, the Facebook app is just around 400KB on this while it is takes about 200MB space in iOS. That’s probably the beauty of HTML-5 which Mozilla used in developing the mobile platform. While about 1,000 apps are available for the device that can be accessed from Mozilla Marketplace, you may not find all that you may need.

On the other hand, Mozilla has chosen India as the test bed for the ultra low-cost device for specific reasons. Of the 250 million mobile handsets (annual) market in India, 71% are feature phones. By 2018, as per IDC projections, that is likely to come down to 22%. This makes India the biggest opportunity for Mozilla — it has not been able to crack the Chinese mobile devices market, the world’s largest, nor does it have any immediate plans to do so, either. Instead, Mozilla wants to tap south-east Asia, Africa and Russia with its ultra low-cost smartphone by the end of this year.

Undoubtedly, it’s the price that will drag feature phone users to this smartphone. But in a few months, they will likely upgrade to smarter devices. In that sense, the world’s cheapest smartphone lacks the ability to retain its users.


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