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Mobicel is changing the mobile game

It’s a South African brand that is little known in higher income segments, but Mobicel is about to break out of the entry-level mould, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

South Africa has a long history of unknown mobile brands that start off catering for entry-level phone users, briefly threaten to challenge the big names, and then fizzle out like a fading signal from a derelict cellular mast.

Barely a year ago, for example, AG Mobile was the big story in local branding. It had sold millions of feature phones and low-cost smartphones, through mass-market retail chains like Jet and Pep. It was designed locally, manufactured in China, imported, and packaged for local tastes. It was a decade-long success story.

But then it overreached, produced a series of phones aimed at both low and middle-income segments, all the way up to mid-range smartphones. Not only that, but it flooded the market with handsets in the hope of replicating its success at the low end.

Overnight, the business collapsed as sales failed to keep up with the heady pace of imports. In a matter of days, the brand vanished from the shelves.

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Meanwhile, a second South African brand had been replicating AG’s success at the entry level. The decade-old Mobicel catered for every budget, if that budget was below R500 to buy the phone outright. At the top end of the market, where that amount and more is spent every single month on contracts, Mobicel was completely unknown.

Soon, that may change. Mobicel is about to venture on the path treaded by AG Mobile when it ventured outside its comfort zone.

There is one fundamental difference, however, said founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan: not only are quantities being carefully managed, but Mobicel is not committing itself to manufacturing capacity that cannot be covered by existing resources, and it is hitting the market with what it calls premium phones, at reasonable prices.

Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

The Mobicel R9 and R9 Plus, launched last week, are rare examples of devices that really can change the mobile game.

The R9 Plus is an Android phone that sports not only a 5.7-inch touch screen, but also edge-to-edge display. Samsung has pioneered the concept with its flagship phones for a number of years, with Apple following suit in its latest iPhones this year. Only LG, with its Q6 released a few months ago, had introduced edge-to-edge screens in a mid-market phone.

So is this a mid-market phone? Perhaps a new category is needed. In a sense, Mobicel is following the lead of Chinese brand Xiaomi, which markets its mid-range smartphones as “high value, affordable devices”. But, at a price of R2 999, the Mobicel R9 Plus probably represents the best value-for-money yet in terms of features versus cost.

The truly remarkable feature of the phone, which does not appear to have been adopted by any other major manufacturer, is that it has flipped the traditional approach of having a premium camera on the rear of the phone and a lower-quality lens on the front for selfies.

With the R9 Plus, the selfie takes pride of place, with a dual front camera. One lens comes in at 20 Megapixels and the other at 8 MP. Mobicel describes it as the “Super Selfie” dual lens camera. It also offers a 120 degree wide angle view, along with “Super Low Light capability”.  And, like most mid- to –high-end phones, it sports a fingerprint sensor.

The slightly stripped down sibling of the Plus, the R9 Lite, will come to market at just under R2000. Both offer a 24-month warranty.

“We’ve created a handset with exceptional build quality, offering the latest technology, and the kind of features only ever before seen on handsets that cost four times as much,” said Kahn.

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Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

“We’ve used our experience, our understanding of the customer base and our economies of scale to offer them an opportunity to migrate from whatever device they’re using to our premium smartphone.”

Mobicel’s stratetic advantage is that it distributes through more than four thousand retail outlets, ranging from the smallest store to large discount chains. It will begin selling the new devices from the beginning of next month, both through retailers and online via Takealot.com.

“There is a big void between phones like the Vodafone Smart Kicka at R399, and the feature-rich smartphones from Samsung and Huawei,” Kahn said in an interview after the launch.

“No one’s filling that massive gap, almost indoctrinating consumers to the idea that if you really want a nice device you have to pay R6000 upward. There’s a massive opportunity. If we can play in the space between R1 500 and R3 000, we will start filling the void.

“Our biggest challenge is making the user experience an awesome one so that when people buy and use the device, whatever reservations they had about the price point is gone. We want people to experience the brand, so we are keeping margins very thin, and a big part of our margin is being put into building a local brand.”

This is uncharted territory for a businessman who entered the cellphone industry in 2002 by bringing in refurbished handsets from the United Kingdom. He would clean them up, and sell them as demo units. By  2007, demand had exceeded supply, and he realised there was a massive market waiting for him.

The first Mobicel handset, back in 2007, was the M404, a1.8-inch dual-SIM feature phone. That’s the year Apple launched the iPhone and sparked the smartphone revolution. It’s taken a decade for Mobicel to break out of the feature phone market, and now it wants to spark an equivalent revolution in the South African mass market.

Said Kahn, “The end game is to provide powerful smartphones without the hefty price tag.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

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Mobile is the new branch

Standard Bank has launched an account for mobile devices that gives back 500MB of data a month

Standard Bank has introducd a R4.95p/m bank account called MyMo that customers can open on their mobile devices, loaded with data and airtime offerings and other benefits such as virtual and Gold physical card.

MyMo account holders will also enjoy the convenience of a cheque account through a Visa and Mastercard gold card. Once the account is open, users can choose to either receive R50 in airtime or 500MB of data a month, if their card is swiped more than four times a month. A further megabyte of data is loaded on the account for every R20 spent.

“MyMo is an account for everyone, whether you just landed your first job or have been around the block. With no documentation required it only takes a few minutes to open the account,” says Funeka Montjane, Chief Executive for Personal and Business Banking, South Africa, at Standard Bank Group. “For just R4.95 a month customer will be able to enjoy free swipes and ATM withdrawals at only R6.50 for amounts under R 1 000.

“Mobile is the new branch. This account is about bringing the mobile branch into customers hands, it is about convenience and security while banking.”

She says mobile offers low cost transactional banking which integrates people and businesses into the new connected economy, making mobile the new branch ecosystem that will drive and connect Africa’s growth. Physical connections to the economy are rapidly changing to digital where banks have to move from being financial institutions to service organisations.

“In the past people congregated in communities and eventually cities to maximise the advantages of connectivity. Today a simple hand-held device has the potential to open infinite doors, transforming individuals’ access to opportunities, regardless of where they are, and like never before in history. 

“Historically, a bank account represented access to economic citizenship. Today, having a simple device enabling digital access to a modern banking platform is a passport to global connectivity and vast human development potential.”

The bank says it is using technology, and mobile phones in particular, to deliver low-cost transactional channels accessible to all our customers. The evolution in mobile can be seen in transaction options like cash back at the retail checkout till rather than the ATM, free digital banking rather than using a branch, and the ability to transact using digital wallets, even without a bank account.

“Developing comprehensive connected ecosystems requires a mind-set change from Africa’s banks,” says Montjane. “Banks will evolve away from traditional financial service organisations, into service ecosystems enabling broad universal access to almost everything like enhanced purchasing experiences of vehicles and homes, online procurement of goods and services and lifestyle elements like rewards and travel. 

“These connectivity drivers will also act to future-proof evolving connectivity ecosystem by allowing us to offer untold future services while deriving income from as yet unrealised revenue streams,.   

From a customer perspective, the kind of ecosystems of knowledge, access and, ultimately, connectivity that banks will come to provide will radically transform the share of life that almost all individuals will be able to access.”

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Two-thirds of SA staff hide social media from bosses

With 90% of people in employment going online several times a day, it can be hard for most workers to keep their private and work-life separate during the working day (and beyond). The recently published Global Privacy Report from Kaspersky Lab reveals that 64% of South African consumers choose to hide social media activity from their boss. This secretive stance at work also extends to their colleagues, with 60% of South Africans also preferring not to reveal online activities to their co-workers.

Globally, the average employee spends an astonishing 13 years and two months at work during their lifetime. Interestingly though, not all this time is directly related to solving work tasks or earning a promotion: almost two thirds (64%) of consumers admit visiting non-work-related websites every day from their desk.

Not surprisingly, 35% of South African employees are against their employer knowing which websites they visit. However, more interestingly, 60% of South African are even against their colleagues knowing about their online activities. This probably means that colleagues constitute an even greater threat to future perspectives of an office slouch or maybe the relationships with colleagues are more informal and therefore, more valuable.

On the contrary, social media activity appears to be a less private domain for many and therefore, more suitable for sharing with colleagues but not the boss. This is probably because workers fear harming the public image of a company or interest in decreased staff productivity motivates companies to monitor employees’ social networks and make career changing decisions based on that. Such policies have led to 64% of South Africans saying that they don’t want to reveal their social media activities to their boss and 53% even don’t want to disclose this information to their colleagues.

A further 29% are against showing the content of their messages and emails to their employer. In addition, 3% even said that their career was irrevocably damaged as a consequence of their personal information being leaked. Thus, people are worried about how to build a favourable internal reputation and how not to destroy existing workplace relationships.

“As going online is an integral part of our life nowadays, lines continue to blur between our digital existence at work and at home. And that’s neither good nor bad. That’s how we live in the digital age. Just keep remembering that as an employee you need to be increasingly cautious of what exactly you post on social media feeds or what websites you prefer using at work. One misconceived action on the internet could have an irrevocable long-term impact on even the most ambitious worker’s ability to climb the career ladder of their choice in the future,” comments Marina Titova, Head of Consumer Product Marketing at Kaspersky Lab.

To ensure workers don’t fall prey of the internet threats at a work, there are some core guidelines to adhere to in the digital age:

  • Don’t post anything that could be considered defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libellous. If in doubt, don’t post.
  • Be aware that system administrators may at least, in theory, be informed about your web browsing patterns.
  • Don’t harass, threaten, discriminate or disparage against any colleague, partner, competitor or customer. Neither on social networks or in messages, emails, nor by any other means.
  • Don’t post photographs of other employees, customers, vendors, suppliers or company products without prior written permission.
  • Start using Kaspersky Password Manager to ensure your social media and other personal accounts are not at risk of unauthorised access by someone else in an office. Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Security Cloud to protect your personal devices.

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