The Middle East mobile market is narrow, highly competitive and offers many barriers of entry for new product launches. What is the reason behind launching Obi in this region and at this time? What are the challenges and opportunities you reckon for the brand in this part of the world?
Approximately 70 percent of the world’s GDP growth is expected to come from emerging markets. Obi will be a global smart phone brand which we intend to sell in most global markets, except China, by the end of 2015. We also do not intend to sell Obi in developed markets like the US. While the US smartphone market is saturated and dominated by ultra-premium expensive brands with extremely high customer loyalty like Apple and high-end Samsung products, it is still early days for smartphones in Emerging Markets. Many Emerging Markets are still 3G. 80 percent of smart phones in markets like India are sold for less than $200. International brands like Sony, Nokia, and HTC have high overhead and expensive R&D which makes it very difficult for them to sell smartphones profitably at lower than $200 price points.
What are the distinctive features of the Obi Mobile in a cluttered smartphone market, especially on the low-cost end? How do you plan to compete in the UAE? How do you plan to roll out the launch campaign, creatively and strategically, for Obi in the region?
Obi will differentiate with high quality product design, our consumer branding skills and the experience of Obi team has with building physical sales channels in emerging markets is our strength. We actually are not intimidated by a crowded competitive field at a time when regional brands are converting from feature phones to smartphones; it is a good time to launch a highly differentiated marketing brand. Even in a crowded market with many competitors with a differentiated smart phone can be a profitable success at three percent to five percent market share. A very large, high growth market, at a time when tech is commoditizing can be an excellent time for a differentiated new brand. The UAE is different from many of our larger markets as consumers, compared to other GCC countries, are more affluent, and somewhat mature, and 4G is further along. We will have to adapt accordingly. We launched our consumer brand marketing campaign in India two months ago and it has already generated excitement for its highly differentiated, edgy creativity. This is an approach that will be replicated across target markets.
We’ve heard that you will be working with former Apple employees. In this regard, what have you taken from your previous tenure and experience at Apple and applied in Obi Mobiles?
Our design and marketing team includes Apple veterans, Robert Brunner, former lead at Apple’s worldwide product design prior to Johnnie Ive; Satjiv Chahil former Apple chief marketing officer, and of course, myself.
Why the decision to opt for an Android operating system, especially given your previous expertise?
We like Android too. Smart phone hardware technology that was previously very expensive has now been commoditized for 3G and 4G smartphones. Android running on now affordable but powerful commoditized hardware can deliver excellent consumer performance.
We will differentiate on top of the Android platform with content and selected optimized features.
What would you tip on the next big investment in tech startups? What’s the next big thing?
As the future unfolds, everything is going mobile, including content, photos, video, and mobile payments.