Micromax Wants To Get To Yu

India’s largest handset manufacturer Micromax has announced a new series of devices under the Yu moniker that will run CyanogenMod out of the box. With the competition in the hardware segment getting fiercer, Micromax is hoping to set itself apart with unique services.

Targeting a younger audience

After establishing a firm foothold in the Indian market, Micromax sought to differentiate itself from other local vendors like Karbonn and Xolo. The brand was said to be in talks with Microsoft over the manufacture of a Windows Phone device, but that did not materialize. Karbonn and Xolo have since beaten Micromax in launching Windows Phone handsets. The vendor then started focusing on distinguishing itself from the smorgasbord of mid-tier devices by offering an aluminium design and high battery life, as seen in the Canvas Turbo and Canvas Knight.  Both devices, however, failed to attract a lot of attention, even after aggressive marketing:

Micromax is now looking to emulate Xiaomi with its Yu series of handsets. Targeted at a younger audience, Micromax’s Yu handsets will run CyanogenMod out of the box. Like Xiaomi, the devices will be sold exclusively online, and there are plans of selling the handsets outside of India as well. “This will be a game changer not just in India but globally too. Yu has been envisioned for building an ecosystem of connected devices and offer customized experience to users.”

Micromax founder Rahul Sharma says that the devices will be targeting “tech enthusiasts who will be able to bootstrap the device and play with it.” Details of the hardware the initial batch of handsets would run were not provided, but considering the affordability that Micromax is targeting, it is unlikely they will offer anything extraordinary when it comes to hardware. With Yu, Micromax is going instead for software and services, where the brand sees a lot of potential. The similarities with Xiaomi do not end at online-only sales, as Micromax will also be looking to pay close attention to user feedback via forums, and will incorporated suggestions into software builds every fortnight.

Sharma also said that Yu Televentures, which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Micromax, will also be heading into the wearable market, with smart bands and “smart shirts” set to launch within a year.

Mi, Myself and Yu

At this stage, it seems unlikely that Micromax will be able to successfully challenge Xiaomi with its Yu handsets. Although the CyanogenMod angle will get users interested, lack of powerful hardware would just as easily deter potential customers. And Micromax cannot iterate like Xiaomi does when it comes to hardware manufacturing, which means that it cannot match the Chinese vendor when it comes to value for money.

And while Sharma has stated that the brand will “engage directly with customers,” it will not be at the same level as what Xiaomi does with its user forums. The Mi India community is hard at work localizing Xiaomi’s MIUI for Indian customers, and has already started offering translated builds of the UI in several Indian languages. If that weren’t enough, Xiaomi is also establishing an office in India that is tasked with building an Internet platform centered around services that Indian users can leverage.

The question remains as to where Micromax’s Yu devices will slot in. At the entry-level segment, Google – in collaboration with Micromax, Spice and Karbonn – is offering the Android One handsets. The first generation devices all feature the same hardware, but the second-generation is said to bring more variety. The mid-tier segment seems like the ideal bet, but enthusiast users looking to get CyanogenMod on their devices would be looking to international vendors like OnePlus, which will be making its debut in India next month. If Micromax can match OnePlus’ quality and offer a device with similar specs at the $350 mark, it stands to carve out a niche for itself in the Indian market. But from what we’ve seen of the vendor thus far, that seems unlikely.