Who will dominate the cheap smartphone market?

Over at Quartz, Leo Mirani has been keeping an eye on the burgeoning market for cheap smartphones. He isn’t impressed with the big corporate efforts to create cheaper versions of the major brands.

Google’s Android One is priced too expensively, and for that reason seems to be failing to gain traction

In September, Google launched its first batch of “Android One” smartphones aimed at customers in emerging markets. Priced at just a little over $100 (despite earlier assurances they would cost no more than $100), the devices were meant to bring some order to the chaos of cheap Android phones… The numbers don’t look good.  [link]

Nokia has a much cheaper offering, but it’s barely a smartphone, with neither 3G nor Wifi

Nokia-215-hero1-jpgMicrosoft, which acquired most of Nokia last year, has stripped out pretty much everything that makes an internet-connected phone “smart.” Sure, $29 is a great price, but not if all you’re getting for it is a glorified feature phone….The thing doesn’t even come with Wi-Fi, let alone 3G, which for most purposes makes it about as internet-ready as your toaster, which is to say not at all. What the 215 does have is a 2G connection. It has to, or it wouldn’t be able to make calls. 2G also allows for excruciatingly slow internet use, so, yes, technically, the phone can use the internet. But it probably shouldn’t. [link]

Much better for the same price are Indian and Chinese cheap Android phones, which seem to be more market driven and less the product of corporate negotiations. These have wifi, and some of the Chinese ones even have 3G

Here’s a touchscreen dual-sim Android device with a 3-megapixel camera (compared to the Nokia’s 0.3 megapixel) that retails for $28 after tax. Here’s a nifty littleFirefox OS phone that goes for $33. Neither of them has 3G either, but at least they’ve got Wi-Fi chips to allow for a decent connection wherever a network is available. China even sells 3G devices at the $30 mark, according to James Bruce of ARM, which designs nearly every processor in every smartphone. [link]

This under $80 market is key, and the $30 pricepoint is especially appealing because it is when a smart-ish phone can be had for the same price as a feature phone. Mirani notes that these phones, while not powerful, are actually not bad either:

I’ve been using each phone for brief periods back in London for the past three weeks, and every one, from the cheapest to the most expensive, is perfectly acceptable… On these phones, you can use Facebook—pre-installed on all of them—or WhatsApp. You can download games. You can email and surf the web.  [link]




  1. Pingback: The second mobile revolution: apps for the developing world | Team Up Start Up

  2. Thank you for this very insightful post, which we picked up in our own blog: “Snippets of random (a blog that does not usually discuss technology, but is nonetheless very interesting) has a post on the status of the cheap-smartphones market. The post summarizes a series of articles by Leo Mirani at Quartz. Despite the many open issues (for example, what platform will emerge as the dominant one within this segment), the trend is clear: smartphones priced in the 30 USD range are coming out of China and will start a second mobile revolution…”


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