Friday, November 12, 2010

Does brand loyalty truly exist in an exploding smartphone market?

Barely a month ago, I was a happy Nokia user, till the Samsung Wave lured me into the bada world that I (somewhat reluctantly) inhabit. This year has demonstrated to me that brand loyalty can truly vanish, in a flash. Just 6 months ago, when I was buying my E63, I would not even have considered a Samsung phone. But they produced a beautiful piece of hardware and I ditched the brand I have used for 5 years, without a second thought. It's a similar story for Samsung across the globe. Take a look at sales figures for Galaxy S; Samsung has sold 1 million units (and counting)  in the US, has outsold the iPhone 4 in Japan soon after launch and overall, shipped 5 million phones worldwide, with projected sales of ten million next year. And we are talking of just one phone in Samsung's line up. 2011 promises a Samsung-branded Nexus 2 and a mysterious super phone with a 1.2 gig processor and and a 4.3 inch screen, running Android 2.3 of course. Suddenly, Samsung is at the cutting edge of technology.

HTC has never been in my consideration set till they jumped on the Android bandwagon. This Businessweek article describes the rise of HTC from a commodity unbranded cell phone manufacturer to the largest  seller of Android phones in the world, the fourth largest handset manufacturer and the third largest company in Taiwan.

I have stated before in this blog that I am a budget smartphone buyer, but it was the specs of the flagship models on both HTC and Samsung, that captured my interest. I dig HTC for the Evo 4G, Desire HD and Desire Z. I would have bought an HTC phone had the company priced competitively in India. I loved the Galaxy S and I bought into the same technology at a lower price when I purchased the Wave.

And the funny thing is that I am now entirely brand neutral. My next phone could be from Samsung, HTC, Motorola or even Nokia. I will simply buy the most awesome specs in my budget. It's just that with so many handsets running Android, the bets are high that it will be an Android phone. Actually, the operating system is a bigger decision factor than the brand.

Do I miss Nokia? Yes, I do. I miss the ease and simplicity of the S60 UI that taught me the magic of a smartphone. I miss the attention to detail and thoughtful features that made navigation a snap. I miss the no-fuss Nokia push mail compared to messing around with Active Sync. I still remember how awesome the homescreen customisation options were  and I cuss out the stupidity of the Wave that will not allow any of the menu options to be set on the homescreen. Nokia truly understood how people use their phone and built it to make their life easier. Shifting to any other brand is like asking me to learn my alphabet again, but in a different language.

Yet the excitement that my Wave gives me is of a different order. I have the world's fastest processor (at least till next month) on my phone. I have the fabulous SAMOLED screen. I have widgets and apps with the limited choices of bada, but I do have them. I am tasting true smartphone functionality on a budget. To be precise, at Rs. 15000 post sale of my old Nokia handset. And nothing Nokia offers currently in this price range is remotely near it. Had Symbian 3 been released on a budget handset, it would have stood a chance with me.But it went first to the N8 at Rs. 25,000 - and to be perfectly honest, if I wanted to shell out that kind of money, I would have spent Rs.3000 more and got a Galaxy S.

Excitement is really what I am after now. With constantly upgrading specs, a cellphone has a much lesser life now than it did earlier. So brand equity, trust and reputation have kind of gone out of the window for me. I want a cheap well built device with top-end type specs that will stay moderately top-end and in one piece, for just a year. HTC and Samsung are both ready to give it to me. Motorola had my attention with the Milestone but they need to price lower to get my buy. I hope Sony and Nokia will still surprise me. Either way, I am spoilt for choice and see no personal stake in being brand loyal any more.

What about you - are you brand loyal or are you lured by the variety in the market?