The upside of downsizing

India will humble you with its oppressive climate and then make you super grateful for your circumstances. It’s the first country I’ve been to where the exchange rate truly favors my South African rand, but because a client is paying late, I can’t really take advantage of it. Fitting then, that some of my business here was attending an international launch for a budget smartphone.

I’ll address the first point by saying that dinner for four adults at what seems like a fancy restaurant with a couple beers on the side only cost R1 500. Big ticket items like iPads (yes, I’m still looking for a good deal on one) or headphones cost about the same as they do in South Africa, but food and alcohol is cheap.

To my second point I’ll say this: it cost me about R300 for a local SIM that gives 1,5GB of data per day. A 3GB data bundle costs me that much on Vodacom. I knew of India’s exceptional mobile data uptake before travelling here, but experiencing it for myself is something else. The theory is that Cyril’s commitments to increasing spectrum allocation – a first since 1994 – will allow the n rework operators back home the opportunity to better optimize the data networks and then drop the price of data by at least a third.

Getting more value for money on your data service will remove many barriers to technology adoption and level the business playing field a bit. But I don’t think it will drive too many Saffers to the warm embrace of the value for money smartphone market. The TECNO Phantom 9, for instance, would be the perfect device for many of the newly empowered mobile consumers looking to pick up a cheap handset that offers a lot of quality features.

MediaTek Helio P35 processor and micro USB charging port  aside – video encoding and multiple background task processing isn’t ideal on that CPU and we want USB-C on all of the things – the Phantom 9 really is a quality handset. A sharp Samsung AMOLED panel, impressive cameras all around and innovative front-facing flash covers all the basics. Of course the biggest question marks are around the HiOS “enhancements” to Android 9 Pie. As is the way of the Chinese manufacturer, TECNO has taken up the challenge of using software to differentiate itself from its competition.

There’s an AI feature attached to every function and, for better or worse, the continued idea that simplifying the user interface is best achieved by adding complexity to the way it works. Apple has also recently fallen into this trap with the mobile version of Safari in iPadOS, but thankfully the company doesn’t try and build a new car from scratch for every time you want to do a simple task elsewhere in the UI.

And that’s actually what consumers want: simplicity. If the iPhone and its seamless integration into the Apple ecosystem came at a cheaper price, it would have the lion’s share of every market in the world. Huawei took the complexity out of taking great pictures more frequently by throwing class-leading hardware and powerful AI at it on the high-end, and then using that halo to market to lower-end consumers.

I believe TECNO will do well if the Phantom 9 is delivered to market under R4 500. The Indian pricing announced on stage comes out to less than that with a direct conversion and it will carry the best screen and front-facing camera among devices in its price category. The realities of possible, meaningful data price reductions in the near future will be great for all consumers and it is products like the Phantom 9 that will enhance the lifestyles of those who really need it. Imaging the content we’ll see when more creators gain access to good hardware and cheap data to post it?

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