In the smartphone industry, everyone is always trying to copy the other. In most cases, everyone is always trying to be like the iPhone. Especially since the launch of the iPhone X, Android devices are all slowly starting to look like cheap iPhone knock-offs.
However, we’re not here to discuss which phone looks more like an iPhone than the other. The main agenda of this piece is to highlight a worrying trend that has started gaining traction, a trend that puts Kenya’s best selling smartphone brand, TECNO, on the spotlight.
For a few years now, TECNO has been at the top of the smartphone table in Kenya with the largest market share, something that can be attributed to a combination of good products, aggressive marketing and excellent pricing. But this glory is under threat from the competition, who have slowly been gaining ground on the champion.
This pressure from the competition has turned the once very promising brand in smartphone innovation into a copy-paste machine. Remember the TECNO Phantom 6? This phone was exciting because it held a promise, a promise of great things to come in the future but these dreams were quickly shattered after the launch of the Phantom 8 – a device that was meant to fit in rather than stand out from the crowd.
Case 1: TECNO Camon CM vs OPPO F7
Towards the end of last year, OPPO launched the OPPO F7 into the Kenyan market. An iPhone X look-a-like device that magically generated a lot of buzz around it. At this time, the F7 was in direct competition with the slightly cheaper TECNO Camon CX.
Both devices were camera phones with almost identical specs but OPPO was hammering down the fact that they had shaved off bezels whilst the competition (read Camon CX) still offered smartphones with thick bezels. The tech community, myself included, were up in arms, demanding for a new-design smartphone from TECNO. We wanted to see a phone in the new 18:9 aspect ratio as this would butter our desires and TECNO gave in.
In what felt like a rushed decision, TECNO launched a special edition Camon device under the branding, Camon CM in early 2018. A device that was clearly meant to counter the growing popularity of the OPPO F7, which now had a slightly lower-powered cheaper version under the F7 Youth moniker.
The Camon CM came at a much lower price with specs to match but offered a new design and that was their selling point. We now had a TECNO smartphone with an 18:9 aspect ratio and it was beautiful, only problem being, this was just a smartphone with no real purpose in the market other than to stifle the competition.
Case 2: TECNO Camon 11 Pro vs Huawei Y9 (2019)
Fast forward to the end of 2018 and Huawei make an unprecedented move. Huawei launches the Y9 (2019), a clearly futuristic device (going by the name) that focuses on its camera prowess. With the budget to flex, the Y9 quickly becomes what everyone is talking about. Huawei even reveals that in under two months, they have sold over 15,000 Y9s in the Kenyan market – a big deal considering Huawei isn’t exactly the market leader.
This move obviously has an effect on the competition. Selling that many phones means the competition did not sell just as many. As expected TECNO has an answer, how similar the answer would be to the question is what we did not expect.
TECNO goes ahead to launch the Camon 11 Pro, a device that looks a lot like the Huawei Y9 (2019) right from the design, to the specs and down to the branding. The difference? Little software tricks and a slightly lower price over the Huawei but the hardware design clearly had an inspiration.
There was a time when the company was actually spearheading innovation but recently, TECNO seems to be making moves that are only meant to counter the competition
Personal analysis has shown TECNO to be a very reactive company. “They did that, we can do it too,” is how I would explain it. There was a time when the company was actually spearheading innovation but recently, TECNO seems to be making moves that are only meant to counter the competition.
I can imagine that TECNO has a lot more to do to maintain their market leadership than the competition has to do to gain on them. With the way things are going, the smartphone market in Kenya is turning into a confused lot with, not features to differentiate between phones but branding and pricing. Is this healthy?
For the consumer, yes. We get to reap the benefits of a price war but how far can such a war go without us getting a casualty? How long will we have the me-too battle before consumer interest shifts or even worse, the companies start feeling the effect of the price war? Look at the current state of the telco market in Kenya, that disaster that we have over there is as a result of innovation being overtaken by the urge to beat the competition.