British-Canadian manufacturer and budget-focused innovator DataWind has announced the release of three new budget phones in India. You might remember them as the company that released Aakash, the world’s cheapest tablet computer, which sells at only $35 per unit.
The President and CEO of DataWind, Suneet Singh Tuli, introduced the products and offered a lot of information on the project. The company envisions this product as a launch pad into the digital age for the Indian population, a large part of which is still unable to access the convenience and multifold benefit of the internet.
One of the ideals of DataWind is increased accessibility and connectivity in India, and they see the PocketSurfer series as a way to plug the hole in the communication gap. They say they will specifically target Tier II and Tier III cities, where this fault is most prominent.
“We are passionate about technology and access that enables and empowers the common man to achieve more in every conceivable way. With this new range of ultra-low cost smartphones, powered with free internet access by India’s leading network, we hope to ignite a spark that will revolutionise India’s movement towards achieving its grand vision of a Digital India. We see this as a beginning of a new phase in internet revolution led by mobile internet and we are delighted and privileged to have Reliance Communications by our side in this new transformational journey towards a Digital India” said Tuli.
The company also wishes to contribute to the Indian economy and job market, by pledging to ship 90% of their manufacturing to India within 90 days. They hope for this to create a thousand jobs, directly and indirectly. They appreciated the Indian government’s execution of their suggestion to inverse the duty structure on smartphones and tablets.
While the internet browsing, serviced by Reliance Communications, will be free for a year, it does not include video and audio streaming and downloads. Users will have to pay separately for these facilities. DataWind have stated that breakthrough technology will enhance and streamline the browsing experience, which will happen through the UbiSurf browser and over Reliance’s GSM network.
The PocketSurfer series comes in 3 models: the 2G4, 3G4 and 3G5 models, selling at Rs. 1,999, 2,999 and 5,499 respectively. Smartphones at that price are unprecedented and DataWind will be hoping that it catches the many eyes of an untapped non-metropolitan market.
Smartphones priced at that value might seem unrealistic, but DataWind seem to have managed it. This might make it very appealing, but the mixed response to the Aakash tablet should keep everyone tethered to the ground. A quick look at the features and capabilities of the PocketSurfer will be found down the page.
This price is comparable to most features phones. Buyers who were previously constricted by money and limited to what is soon becoming a dying product, can now acquire smartphones with a marginal increase in expenditure. This will surely be welcomed by that niche consumer market.
As mentioned before, the PocketSurfer comes in three different flavours. All eyes will be on the more affordable of the three, the 2G4 and the 3G4, the likely targets of the majority.
The 2G4 is the bargainers’ buy, at Rs. 1,999. It displays satisfactorily at 320×480 on a 3.5 inch screen – which is what all one should wish to hope for, at that price. Interestingly, this phone runs on Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich. The hardware powering the phone is a 1 Ghz processor with 256Mb of memory. Whether the phone will run smoothly on this hardware can only be known in time. It finishes off with a VGA camera on the rear. The company claims that the phone’s battery can survive 4 hours of talk time and 5 days on stand-by. Again, this remains to be seen. The fundamentality of the phone is unsurprising, but does not contradict the intent of the phone, which is to provide increased accessibility and digital connectivity. The 2G4 gives the impression of accomplishing this, if the hardware does hamper everyday use. Perhaps DataWind have learned a lesson from the Aakash release.
The 3G4 is the 2G4’s bigger brother. It stands at 4 inches with a 800×480 display. Processing and performance power has also been beefed up, with the phone running Android 4.4.2, KitKat, on a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor. The memory matches the 2G4. The phone will, of course, offer 3G connectivity. The battery life is claimed to be 6 hours of talk and 8 days of stand-by. The biggest addition is probably that of the 5MP rear-camera, with a VGA front camera for support. At a thousand rupees higher than the 2G4, but with a substantial hardware improvement, the 3G4 occupies the middle-ground that usually attracts the vast majority.
The 3G5 is the last and the priciest of the three. Rs. 5,499 is not far from quality products from more renowned manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Motorola, so it necessitates superiority. It stands a little bigger than its competitors, at 5 inches, and an 800×480 display. It uses the same processor, the 1.2 GHz dual core, as the 3G4 and the Motorola E, but weaker than the Redmi 1S – which is nitpicking, frankly. Memory is at higher 512 Mb. This model will also run on the same KitKat OS as the 3G4. The camera is identical, but possesses flash as well. The battery is expected to withstand six hours of talking and 8 days of stand-by. Response to this model will be the most interesting, as it is simply impossible to tell if it can give the bigger manufacturers a run for their money, though it does seem unlikely.
There is no doubt that the free internet facility is the chief enticement of the PocketSurfer. If all things go well, DataWind can make India more connected. The internet package could offer free access to education and entertainment, commercial transactions and bookings, and most importantly, complete communication. It is the device itself that will decide the outcome.
But is the company worried about a weak response? “The feature phone market is about 150 million units a year. So, if we can convert even 3 percent of this, which is around 45-50 lakh units, it would be okay. The target that we have set is to sell 50 lakh units in the next 12 months and we are targeting tier II and III cities,” Tuli says.
The numbers certainly point towards success. Reports estimate that over 1.3 Crores of phones under Rs.3000 are bought every month. Technological powerhouses of the world have long since discovered and feasted on the India’s appetite for technology.
DataWind have shaken hands with Naaptol, the e-retailer, to sell these models. The product will be available for purchase on Naaptol’s website, their telemarketing programmes and in print. The company also mentioned that these products would be available at 3,600 outlets by the end of the month.