The former sub-brand of Oppo sees the 5G rollout could bring out more innovations in the smartphone market. In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, Madhav Sheth, CEO of Realme India, spoke about foldable phones, censorship, employment, and investment. Edited excerpts below:
Realme has been on a growth trajectory despite an overall decline in the shipments for other players in the Indian market. How do you see this position despite stiff competition in the market?
Sheth: I believe one of the greatest factors that have contributed to the growth of Realme, not just in these past months, but overall, is the fact that we are always listening to our customers and building on user experience. We curate and launch products as per their ever-changing needs and ensure that they get the best features at the right price. Our focus has always been on equipping our customers with the latest technologies and trendy designs, and this approach has been well-appreciated by them. We connect with our user community through various channels and take their feedback very seriously.
We have also been able to establish a strong connect with our customers through our omni-channel approach. I believe having the correct mix of online and retail presence plays a significant role in reaching your customers, and at Realme we have found that balance. We have had strong partnerships with our e-commerce partners since the very beginning and have established a sufficient number of retail stores across the country. In the upcoming months, we will continue to improve our services and work towards formulating new partnerships with more e-commerce partners.
What has also worked for us is our strong after-sales service and redressal system. We have a strong network of service centres across the country and will continue to expand this network, thus building further on user experience.
Everyone is talking about 5G and 5G-enabled phones being the next big thing. Realme already has a 5G smartphone portfolio, but what will change after the formal rollout of the services for a brand like Realme, its suppliers and buyers?
Sheth: Having been at the forefront of technology, we are quite excited about 5G services being rolled out. The conversations around 5G started in 2019 - 2020, and we were the first brand to introduce a 5G smartphone in India. Since then, our portfolio has grown to such an extent that at the moment, 50% of our portfolio includes 5G-enabled devices. We have 5 million users in India who are already using our 5G-enabled smartphones, and once the services are rolled out, it will bring a host of opportunities. 5G will help drive greater use of smart technologies such as IoT, AI, and VR which in turn will revolutionize the development of new products and services that can be offered to customers.
With the formal rollout of 5G services, the entire ecosystem will come into place, and it will usher in the era of smart homes and offices as well as connected transport which will transform the way we live, work, and travel. For users, 5G brings a lot of conveniences - for example, storage will definitely move to the cloud, and the gaming community will be completely different from what it is today.
With the 5G rollout do you believe that the 4G handsets will go obsolete here and find new markets outside India where you largely export?
Sheth: 5G is the next big thing for the communications industry, no doubt, but I believe India is a market where 2G, 4G, and 5G can co-exist because of the varying needs of the users. We want to meet the needs of a wide spectrum of customers, which is why Realme will continue to bring both 4G and 5G smartphones to India in the upcoming months. We want to democratize 5G in India and want to reach the masses of the country, which is why we will be bringing more and more affordable 5G smartphones, but we recognize that a sizable portion of our users are still looking for 4G devices even though 5G has gained popularity, and therefore we will continue to innovate and bring new offerings for our consumers, and I am sure that all our smartphones will be as well-received as they have in the past.
Is restricting or capping smartphone sales on the basis of the price a good idea at this time, and is it not against the principle of fair and healthy competition?
Sheth: I would not like to comment on whether the idea is against the principle of fair and healthy competition or not, but in the last few days, the authorities have clarified that they are not looking at implementing any such moves or considering this idea. There are some expectations that they have from brands, and Realme is already meeting those expectations and working toward enhancing its contribution to the economy even further. We have established several strong partnerships with OEMs to manufacture products within India over the last four years, and all Realme smartphones are 100% manufactured in India. We have also brought a large part of the supply chain to India, with 60-70% of the components being sourced locally. Another ask is that exports from within India increase, and we have been exporting to a few South-Asian countries since 2021 and are expanding our export capabilities. Also, our entire distributor network is from India.
Tablets are emerging as your new favourite in India as hybrid work continues. Did you find something missing in this segment?
Sheth: We entered the tablet segment in 2021 and launched three tablets, and the response is extremely well across the market. We are constantly trying to understand the demands of our consumers and bring new products which can fulfill their everyday requirements. With the possibility of 5G network roll-out in the upcoming months, we thought of introducing the 5G tablet that supports 5G, and hence launched Realme Pad X, which is the industry’s first 5G tablet in the premium mid-range segment. It supports a 6nm Snapdragon 695 processor which is bound to give users an unparalleled experience. We will continue to expand this category further, as and when we see an opportunity for it.
Smartphone players are now experimenting with foldable phones while Realme still hasn’t said anything on this despite its sister company Oppo having that technology. Is it something Realme won’t try and rather focus on its strong areas?
Sheth: Realme is consistently investing in R&D and incorporating market-specific insights to create compelling products that are in-sync with customers’ requirements across demography including India. The concept of foldable phones is exciting, and we are working at the back end to get the best product which could meet day to day requirements of our consumers. Currently, our focus is to offer fast charging and advanced camera quality. We will continue to bring products which will meet our consumers’ everyday requirement in the long run.
In recent times there has been unsaid censorship of Chinese brands. Doesn’t it bother the company’s investment, recruitment and rollout plans?
Sheth: Realme was established in India almost four years back, and since then we are just moving ahead. I believe that being compliant with the laws of the land is of utmost importance, and Realme is 100% compliant. In the past, we have made significant investments in India to expand our local manufacturing capabilities and have successfully achieved 100% local manufacturing of our smartphones, smart TVs, Realme Buds Wireless, Realme Watch 2 Pro and Realme 4K Smart TV Google Stick. We are also working towards manufacturing our flagship TWS, Realme Buds Air 3 100% in India.
Our local manufacturing initiatives have also created ample job opportunities for the youth of India, making Realme a family of 10,000 employees, and by the end of this year, we are aiming to reach 13,000 employees. Our product rollout plans too are running as per schedule, and we are continuously working towards enhancing our work capabilities.
What is the roadmap for the Android 13 rollout for Realme phones?
Sheth: We provide regular updates to our users over OTA of required software etc. We will continue to share regular updates to meet the requirements of users and keep our user base posted once we are rolling out Android 13.
Hasn’t Realme become the Xiaomi of BBK Electronics in just 4 years with sub-brands like Narzo, smart TVs, TWS, wearables and other IoT products?
Sheth: Being a consumer-centric brand, we always aim to provide best-in-class technology in all segments to our users. Over the last four years, Realme has expanded into various categories to meet the regular demands of our consumers. We started building our AIoT portfolio, or our TechLife Ecosystem, in 2022 with the Realme Band and expanded with multiple hearables, wearables, and smart TVs. Last year, we also entered the laptop and tablet markets, and we’ve done quite well. We intend to add more affordable audio and wearable products while also exploring additional health assessment features and standalone connectivity. Realme will continue to offer value-for-money and high-technology audio and consumer electronic products which ergonomically come with advanced features, seamless design, and performance, exceeding all consumer’s expectations.