Ex-Apple CEO to launch $100 iPhone-quality mobiles


A smartphone company that isn’t making substantial investments in technology may sound counter-intuitive at first, but that is exactly what former Apple CEO John Sculley’s Obi Mobiles says has bagged it a 4.2 per cent share of the UAE smartphones market within months of its launch.

“Technology is being commoditised,” Amit Rupchandani, Managing Director, Obi Mobiles EMEA, told this website. “Smartphones technology is being commoditised too,” he adds.

“So, we are not investing heavily in technology,” he admits. “We are a design/marketing company, and we prefer to invest more in design,” he says.

Obi Mobiles, the technology brand co-founded by veteran marketer and former Apple CEO John Sculley, is now about six months old in the UAE.

Being Obi’s mentor and chairman, Sculley has managed to attract a few good Silicon Valley names into the firm’s design department, says Rupchandani. “We teamed up with Ammunition, our design house [in California], last year,” he says.

“Design is a lengthy process,” Rupchadani explains, and says that it typically takes about 40 weeks for a new smartphone design cycle to complete. “They are currently working on designs for us,” he says.

“We will be coming out with a solid portfolio of products in the second quarter of this year,” he promises. The Obi EMEA boss maintains that Apple’s iPhone is a very well designed smartphone but insists that not everyone can afford the steep price-tag.

“These [forthcoming Obi] devices will give consumers a touch and feel of [premium smartphones] but at a very disruptive price-point. This is where our entire focus is,” Rupchandani told Emirates 24|7 on the sidelines of the recently concluded Gitex Shopper in Dubai.

“We want to give consumers the experience they wish but don’t have $600 to $800 [Dh2,200 to Dh3,000] to spend on it,” Rupchandani says.

The firm says that Sculley’s vision is to ensure that technology is not cloaked by jargon or is inaccessible to a large number of people due to a high cost entry barrier.

“Obi is focusing on a range of $100 to $200 [Dh375 to Dh750] to offer the best designed phones available to them, and are trying to convert feature phone users to smartphone users,” the Obi EMEA boss elaborates.

“Consumers are increasingly looking to upgrade from feature phones to smartphones. However, the high cost of investment in state-of-the-art devices is a huge deterrent for a large number of aspirational buyers. At Obi Mobiles, we believe in ticking the right boxes in terms of superior design and quality at desirable price points,” he said.

“We are a global brand. We’re expanding in the Middle East and North Africa region now, and will go to Latin America after that. We wish to be on 70 countries by the end of 2015 – that’s our plan,” he says.

Following its successful launch in India and the Middle East, Obi Mobiles now plans substantial investments in to the African smartphone market and will expand to other countries in Africa over the next few months, the firm notes.

Last month, Obi’s devices were launched in two African markets – Kenya and Tanzania – and the company claims its mobiles have been well received in both the countries.

“We are charting out our entry in to the East Africa market currently and aim to rapidly grow in the region by forging synergies with effective channel partners,” Rupchandani said during the Nairobi launch last month.

“Obi Mobiles will continue to expand extensively through 2015, with Africa, Latin America and the former CIS region on our list of priority markets. By the end of the year, we aim to be in 70 emerging markets globally,” he said.

The brand was launched in the Middle East last year, and Rupchandani says the company is hoping for a double-digit share of the UAE market by the end of this year.

“Since our launch, we have been able to capture 4.2 per cent of the UAE smartphone market in the first few weeks of 2015,” Rupchandani says.

“Globally, our aim is to reach a 5 per cent market share, and we are very happy that, within a few weeks of our launch here, the UAE consumers has given us the confidence of reaching that figure,” he says.

“According to retailers, we already have a more than 4 per cent share of the UAE market, and we will try to achieve a double-digit share here,” he notes.

“Now that we are established in the [UAE] market, we… hope to secure 40 per cent growth in monthly sales revenue thanks to Gitex Shopper,” he said.

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