Think of any good, high-end Android phone with numerous industry-first innovations, and it is only natural that Samsung comes to mind. “In Galaxy S9 and S9+, there are several new features—many innovations for India as well—that are unprecedented in the flagship tech space, and definitely from Samsung’s stable,” says Asim Warsi, corporate vice-president, Samsung Electronics. A consumer-centric strategy has helped the South Korean consumer electronics behemoth to become India’s number one mobile phone company and one of the most trusted brands. “We have $15 billion worth of R&D investments and thousands of R&D engineers and scientists globally. So it’s very exciting and important for us to meet consumer expectations, and very often, to create new consumer expectations and go beyond what consumers are expecting,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in an interview. Excerpts:
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the most important devices for Samsung in recent times. Do you think the market expectations are a bit too high from the company?
Market expectations will always be high. We will have to rise up to them. That’s the fun and excitement that drives us. We have $15 billion worth of R&D investments and thousands of R&D engineers and scientists globally. So it’s very exciting and important for us to meet consumer expectations, and create new consumer expectations and go beyond what consumers are expecting. Talk to us about some of the new features in the two devices. In Galaxy S9/S9+, there are certain things that are unprecedented in the flagship tech space, and definitely from Samsung’s stable. The S9 is a flagship built around the camera. The camera is really central to the kind of innovation and the kind of unprecedented experience and capabilities that consumers will now be able to harness and enjoy—dual aperture, F1.5, 960 frames per second, augmented reality-based emojis and so on and so forth. Many are industry-first innovations. Moving beyond the camera, last year we introduced a cutting edge and fresh design that continues to be unique in worldwide space of devices—the infinity dual curved display. The materials and moulds we have used with aluminium—and this time it’s a 7000 grade aluminium which is 1.2 times stronger than the previous 6000 grade or the gorilla glass 5.0 that we have used—it’s really taking the same beautiful, evocative design to an even more beautiful, pristine level.
How will Samsung differentiate its new devices versus other Android players here?
If you look at the kind of localisation we have done for India…For us, it’s never enough to get the next global flagship in India and just launch it in India. We are always thirsting for the next localisation for India—what’s the new value addition or relevance we are going to create for Indian consumers. In flagship phones such as the S9/S9+, there are three fronts that we have tried to push ourselves and offer what consumers in India are seeking from their devices,. One is 4G—vast country, vast consumption, but are consumers able to get the full experience out of 4G, the quantum of content they want to enjoy? We felt there is something better we can offer. Here comes Carrier Aggregation or the 3CA—the tech allows one to enjoy up to 2.5 times the speeds they get from their conventional carriers. Second, Samsung Pay—which was customised for India last year. The fact is that it is the most integrated payment platform and millions and millions of users are using it regularly. It is time we rewarded these consumers, so we introduced a first of its kind Samsung Rewards Loyalty programme. Thirdly, it’s never enough to innovate with a product but also important to innovate—how a consumer will access, own or acquire a product. So we went into the purchase experience and looked into how to delight our consumers. We are doing multiple firsts in it. For example, different consumers have different payment options that they would opt for. Somebody uses cash, or somebody uses plastics or something or the other. We have different offerings. A consumer can enjoy `6000 cashback, if he buys through the Paytm Mall, or if he buys using HDFC debit or credit card. Many consumers are already using a Samsung phone. If they want to upgrade to the next flagship, now they can turn in their old device, and get an additional `6,000 over the market value of their old device. There’s a plethora of options for the consumer to avail of but it doesn’t stop there. We have tied up with all the major leading operators in India and are giving the consumer the option to choose what he thinks is the best. Whichever operator they prefer, the consumer can choose the best they want – unmatched data, unmatched tariff plan or unmatched entertainment plan. Between Airtel, Jio and Vodafone, there are different offers on each, all simultaneously available.
During the last flagship launch, there were some great innovations like Bixby voice assistant and the Dex dock that lets your phone act as a desktop computer? How have you taken these forward now?
Both Bixby and Dex, from last time to now, are only further enhanced. In Bixby, the English language recognition for Indian accents has been improved, optimised and machine learnt to a much better level than in early days. Bixby can recognise the way Indians speak English, across geographies. The experience is richer, more accurate and faster than before. We have launched a new Dex with this device, which has a new form factor and will have added capabilities. It’s called DexPad now and it turns your screen into the mouse guide to show what you’re doing on the larger display.
What are your views on the high-end smartphone market in India?
It is the most exciting segment as always because that is really the fountainhead of innovation—time after time, launch after launch, for the industry. And definitely for us at Samsung, this is where we put on our best innovations forth for our consumers. We get out the next in hardware, the next in software, the next in applications, the next in connected experiences, for our consumers. Although we are market leaders at an overall level, and in every sub-segment of the mobile market. Amongst all segments that are equally important, there’s a first amongst equals. For us, that first is always the flagship segment for the aforesaid reasons.
What are the factors driving sales in the high-end segment?
There are several things that we are observing. In the flagship end of the market, the consumers are the most discerning, the most exacting, and that’s really, really valuable for us. Because they always show us where we should put in our energies and our investments, be it in terms of design, development, research etc. This is also a segment where we put in our best imagination, creativity—to create stuff that can go beyond consumer expectations. Create experiences that consumers have hitherto never have experienced before. We enable people to do what can’t be done. This segment is extremely important, extremely exciting. First, is the whole aspect of camera and capture—still or video. And through the capture— expression. It’s not just about sharing content and video. It’s about customisation, personalisation, expression. It’s about the consumers, what they want. That’s a very interesting and rapidly changing trend. In the S9/S9+, we focussed on this. From a hardware and software standpoint, what we have done with the camera, is trying to address what consumers are expecting from us, or the flagship end of devices. Take for example, the augmented reality technology in our emojis. There are emojis and emoticons and there are more emojis and emoticons that consumers are using. But for the first time, we are using AR technology to make an emoticon around you, along with 18 pre-set customised facial expressions. The other trend we are seeing is inter-connectivity of devices and platforms. In the CES, Samsung announced One Samsung. Our vision towards building the IoT, AI and multi-device experience eco-system. This does not mean it is restricted to our televisions, appliances and mobile phones. It’s about connectivity with other ecosystems – devices, automobiles, home appliances, and other systems out there.
How are you pegged against your key competition in India?
I would like to put it differently. How are we pegged against our previous best flagship and how better are we serving our consumers, who have come to demand from us and also accord us a leadership of 55% market share, by value terms overall, during 2017, in the flagship segment. This is the kind of trust, love and loyalty consumers have shown to us. We are always measuring ourselves against our biggest competitor, which is ourselves—our previous best. Whether you look at Galaxy S8 which was a grand success in India or Galaxy Note 8, which has been a stellar run for us, we believe that the S9/S9+ will beat the past two flagships that we launched last year. These are going to enjoy an even more overwhelming response from consumers.