New Android devices to increase smartphone competition in Thailand

One topic that is hugely interesting in Thailand, Southeast Asia and other emerging tech markets across Asia is the rise of smartphones.  In fact, two predictions I made for 2011 relate to smartphones in Thailand – ‘More competitive, growing smartphone industry’ and ‘ Growth in internet access fueled by mobile’. With these in mind, a couple of Bangkok Post articles written around the current Mobile Expo event are of interest.

First, this overview of devices on show at the expo includes a number of interesting points.

Thailand is responsible for the largest amount of iPhones shipped to any country in Southeast Asia according to True, which became the first Thai telco to offer the Apple device.

Sales of the smash hit iPhone have not waned in Thailand since the day it was launched by True Corp a few years ago.

“Thailand became the largest iPhone shipment in the Asia Pacific region in December last year,” said True Corp assistant to the president and CEO, Papon Ratanachaikanont, adding that the demand for iPhones continued to outstrip supply.

While this is a significant fact – assuming that Khun Papon is not mistaken and is referring to the cumulative number of iPhone shipped over and not just those in December’s shipments – iPhone struggles for market share in the region with BlackBerry, Android and even Nokia, with the exception of Singapore, a small market though it is.

Another of my predictions – “Thailand’s interest in BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and all things BlackBerry will dwindle this year” – is raised.

Software Park director Thanachart Numnonda believes that BB users are likely to decline because of its proprietary platform and features that focus only on chatting and business groups, while the popularity of the iPhone has not changed, with Apple expecting to hog the largest market share for another three to four years.

Google’s Android, however, will witness a drastic surge because many handsets, including buget-priced handsets from China, are joining with the platform.

“High-income earners always go for the iPhone, BB and higher priced Androids, but for those who have limited budgets, Android-based devices are their choice,” he said.

A great summary of the new threat of Android, and its budget/entry-level device, and the potential shortcomings faced by RIM.

To that point, the latest budget, Android-based device from Spriing is mentioned:

Local brand Spriiing Telecom, meanwhile, has entered the smartphone market, offering the first dedicated social networking phone. Their first model, Smile, runs on cross platforms – Android and Spriiing.

The company’s R&D vice-president Yukonart Charnpanichkijjakarn said Spriiing Chat is the key feature as it can support a chat group of up to 200 users, compared to a maximum of only 30 users on BB.

“Spriiing doesn’t compete with BB as they are at the upper level, but we see a market gap which is a huge opportunity,” Yukonart said.

I would caution that taking BlackBerry on using messaging is very much playing to their brand strength in Thailand. There are many other competitors, software such as What’s App for example. As the device is unlikely to get the kind of market share BlackBerry enjoys in Thailand Spriiing must have a high level of connectivity with existing chat channels to enable users to chat with friend on the likes of MSN, Google Talk etc, to stand any kind of chance of success with its IM product.

The cost of the Spriing device is interesting as it has potential in the first time smartphone buyer market just like Samart i-mobile’s “first four models of…Android phone, from 4,000 to 6,000 THB” which are more affordable than the most basic BlackBerry which can be purchased for upwards of 9,000 THB in unofficial outlets.

Another Bangkok Post article, this time focused on the increasingly competitive smartphone market, gives details of another range of Android devices which, combined with the low entry devices, show the sheer range of Android-smartphones which make the OS hotly tipped to conquer the market.

Many brands will introduce Android-based smartphones at the fair such as the Motorola Defy at 12,900 baht, the Charm at 9,900 baht, the Samsung Galaxy Cooper at 9,900 baht, and the Acer E140 at 6,590 baht. LG will showcase its Optimus 2X and Black.Meanwhile, Nokia will launch the E7, which offers Symbian for business users and C6 for touchscreen phones. HTC will introduce the Mozart, the second model of Windows Phone, at 17,900 baht.

While finally the article suggests competition will cut prices as the smartphone begins to get congested in Thailand.

Heavy competition will lower smartphone prices at least 20%,” said Opas Cherdpunt, the managing director of M Vision, the organiser of the expo that will open today at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok.

“Demand growth is expected with Android-based smartphones, cut to 9,900 baht from 12,000. Android-based users are mainly university students and first-jobbers.”

The increased competition and choice of device has been long heralded in Thailand but equally a long time coming. Smartphones have, and still remain, out of the financial reach of many citizens who don’t to the internet and other technologies.

The big hope that smartphones offer is an opportunity to bridge this divide and, though mobile internet is a very different experience to fixed-line, they can offer a greater level of access to information and the internet – overcoming both financial and infrastructure constraints – which can help improve communication, lifestyle and many other areas.

This is very much at an early stage of development though it will be interesting to gauge the market share of iPhone, BlackBerry and Android come the end of the year, when the established order of smartphones may have shifted.