Mirror, mirror on the wall; who’s the ‘smartest’ of them all?
First, it was smartphones — as aspiring, upwardly mobile Indians moved from that first physical-keypad-based feature phone to a touch-based, internet-ready smart handset.
Then, a galaxy of personal ‘connected’ devices and appliances ‘smartened up’, spoiling consumers with a surfeit of options — smart audio wearables, smart TVs (televisions), smart speakers, smart security, the list went on.
But as we near 2024, the euphoria seems to be wearing out, suggests the fourth edition of the report ‘India Connected Consumers Report 2024’, released by technology market research firm Techarc a few days ago.
"What is worrying to witness is that the interest of consumers is declining in these smart devices as they fail to deliver real value to them beyond a point," says Faisal Kawoosa, the Chief Analyst and Founder of Techarc.
This may also be a case of smart fatigue — when manufacturers smarten up everything in sight. The Techarc study (read it here) classifies smart devices into six categories:
1. Smart personal — Laptops, including Chromebooks, tablet PCs (personal computers), wearables
2. Smart entertainment — Smart TV, streaming devices, smart speakers
3. Smart comfort and convenience — Smart lights, smart switches, smart air purifiers, smart ACs, smart water purifiers, smart heaters
4. Smart home infra — routers, thermostats, InfraRed Blasters
5. Smart security — Smart surveillance cameras, smart door locks, smart video doorbells
6. Smart home appliances — Smart washing machines, smart vacuum cleaners, smart air fryers, smart ovens
While all smart things are equal, some are more equal than others.
Techarc helps separate the serious contenders from the less meaningful applications. What this reveals is that the average Indian is more discerning than is generally supposed and makes shrewd priorities before buying into the smart story.
A smartphone is a no-brainer — the value proposition of a smartphone over a feature phone, of a touch screen over a keyboard, is overwhelming.
"After widespread ‘smartisation’ of mobile phones, Smart TV is expected to show similar adoption trends," finds the study.
Smart TV Is Popular
The three i's of immersive experience, intelligent features, and intuitive applications are driving the future of smart TVs. This demands more powerful processors that will also have emerging capabilities, including artificial intelligence (AI) processing to create more compelling applications.
In terms of display size preference, like the famous catchline of the film Godzilla, "Size does matter."
Indians prefer larger screen sizes (55-65 inches) if they can afford them. They appreciate the value of audio and video enhancements: 97 per cent of the smart TVs launched between January and September 2023 supported Dolby Atmos as a feature.
Smart TVs need an operating system, much like a PC — and Google’s Android OS (operating system) is the default OS for 73 per cent of all smart TVs sold in the same period.
Sharper is better, and two of every three smart TVs sold in India have ultra HD or 4K resolution.
An October 2023 study by technology market research firm Counterpoint has another explanation for the perennial popularity of smart TVs: "The OTT services are helping in the growth of smart TVs due to the streaming of popular sports events, TV series, and movies, which creates stickiness among the consumers," Senior Research Analyst Anshika Jain says.
And then, there is affordability: According to Counterpoint, smart TVs with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision are now available in the price range starting from (as low as) Rs 20,000.
As per a more recent (2 December) Counterpoint study, Xiaomi leads smart TV sales in India with a 10 per cent market share, followed by Samsung, OnePlus, LG, and Vu. Today, all these brands are substantially made in India.
While not technically a home appliance, smart wearables — earphones, headphones, smartwatches, and health bands — merit a mention because Indian companies are among the world leaders in some of these categories.
According to the latest (14 December) study by Canalys, shipments of wireless headphones surpassed those of wireless earphones for the first time, predominantly due to vendors seeking stronger revenue drivers through wireless headphones and wireless earphones being replaced by TWS or True Wireless Stereo earbuds.
The Indian brand boAt is next only to Apple and Samsung in the global ranking of smart audio wearable market share.
And, domestically, the most recent International Data Corporation (IDC) tracker rates Fire-Boltt, a homegrown smart wearable brand, as the best-selling Indian smartwatch market with 23.6 per cent market share in the third quarter of 2023.
Connected Appliances? Nah!
The connected smart home was a much-touted buzzword in 2022 and much of 2023. But it seems to be past its hype cycles.
Techarc suggests: "Smart Home Appliances is another category which can’t convince the consumers enough about owning one. The value addition needs to be significant for consumers to consider these options. Except for a router, which is a must to have a smart home, other Smart Home Infra devices too are not seeing a great adoption."
Ditto for the smart comfort and convenience category. Indians don’t see much point in surrounding themselves with smart ovens, smart washing machines, smart air conditioners, and the like.
But they give a thumbs-up to smart security — cameras, smart video doorbells, burglar alarms.
Increasing urban insecurity and dissatisfaction with police patrolling may be contributing to so many households spending money on building their home security cover. Even non-security product companies like Airtel encourage customers to set up wireless-networked cameras.
And somewhat aspirationally, many Indians seem to go for smart (for mood as well as function) lighting.
In the smart personal category, which covers laptops, tablets, and other productivity tools, Chromebooks, much-hyped — not least by Google — proved to be less than meets the eye.
These underpowered computing platforms need an always-on internet connection and cloud storage, and clearly, this is not perceived in India at least as a very practical proposition.
Consumers are not quite as dumb as some marketing whizz kids assume:
Techarc’s Kawoosa suggests that the decision-making about the selection of smart devices is increasingly taking place on more information about the features and the construct of these devices.
Consumers want to see the real value of these devices and, hence, probe deeper into the features and functions as well as the components that make them.
To put it another way, a big TV ad blast in the festive season, or during an IPL season, alone won’t cut it, and buyers demand more information every day: "Consumers want smart devices OEMs to be transparent like smartphone OEMs who reveal their key component suppliers like chipset makers, display suppliers, camera module manufacturers among others. This helps the consumers evaluate the products with deeper understanding as well as increase their confidence in the independent reputation and credibility of component makers."
If anyone knows a paisa vasool product when he or she sees one, the Indian buyer does. Razzle dazzle doesn’t do it — sound value does. A nice learning for the New Year.
Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.
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