Range a flash in pan or smart­phone win­ner?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING - KEVIN RITCHIE

RJ VAN SPAAN­DONK should have known by late yes­ter­day af­ter­noon whether his so­cial me­dia-only flash sale launch of a brand new smart­phone range to this coun­try has worked.

Last Fri­day, smart­phone fans were in­vited to reg­is­ter an in­ter­est to take part in a flash sale (like a flash mob), be­com­ing the first adopters of the Xiaomi Mi4 and Redmi 2 hand­sets ahead of their of­fi­cial launch in se­lected stores to­day.

The en­thu­si­asts were given a fol­low-up mes­sage yes­ter­day at 2pm, giv­ing them the of­fer to buy the hand­set of their choice, af­ter which it would be de­liv­ered by courier – and paid for at the door.

“It’s very use­ful,” says Van Spaan­donk, “to gauge de­mand and al­lo­cate stock” – both crit­i­cal with prod­uct launches and in­vari­ably prob­lem­atic with the wrong stock be­ing sent to the wrong cen­tres on noth­ing more than a whim.

The con­cept was used with great suc­cess dur­ing his new com­pany Mo­bile in Africa (MIA)’s in­au­gu­ral prod­uct launch in Nige­ria. Af­ter South Africa, the next one will be in Kenya, tar­get­ing the three key economies on the con­ti­nent.

The flash sale ap­proach is lifted straight out of the Xiaomi play­book – cut out the mid­dle­man and make good smart­phones avail­able to the pub­lic as close to cost as pos­si­ble. It’s been used in China, In­dia and Sin­ga­pore. It worked ex­tremely well in La­gos, where the for­mal re­tail sec­tor doesn’t ex­ist, he says, be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble con­ges­tion on the roads, making shop­ping as we know it al­most im­pos­si­ble. In­stead, e-commerce is boom­ing.

Van Spaan­donk’s ra­tio­nale for mov­ing on to found MIA af­ter more than a decade at Ap­ple dis­trib­u­tor Core Group, lat­terly as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, was part per­sonal: “I’m a brand builder and an en­tre­pre­neur and Core had be­come an es­tab­lished busi­ness, present in 14 African coun­tries with a team of more than 800.”

His other rea­son was strate­gic: iden­ti­fy­ing the trends in the cell­phone in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly on the con­ti­nent and mov­ing to meet them.

“South Africa has a 20 per­cent con­tract rate in the cell­phone mar­ket,” he ex­plains, “the rest of the con­ti­nent is zero, the phones are bought for cash up front and very few in Africa can af­ford smart­phones.”

The smart­phones that are avail­able are ei­ther high-end and only avail­able through con­tracts, or cheap and nasty with un­re­spon­sive op­er­at­ing sys­tems and con­se­quently bad user ex­pe­ri­ences – much like driv­ers of East­ern Euro­pean cars had in the early 1990s af­ter the fall of the Iron Cur­tain.

Xiaomi, he hopes, will change all that, tar­get­ing both the gap in the mar­ket and cre­at­ing a mar­ket in the gap. “This is the first de­sign and in­no­va­tion-driven Chi­nese com­pany in the lux­ury space that is truly af­ford­able,” he en­thuses. It took the com­pany five years to tra­verse the same ground that Ap­ple took 30 years to cover, he of­fers as proof.

Known by its fans as the Ap­ple of the east, Van Spaan­donk claims Xiaomi should rather be seen as a com­bi­na­tion of Ap­ple, Ama­zon and Google, as it blends e-commerce, Google val­ues and Ap­ple’s build qual­ity. The an­droid-based hand­sets are made in the same fac­tory that pro­duce the Ap­ple iPhones and have gen­er­ally gar­nered rave re­views in tech mag­a­zines across the world.

The Redmi 2 be­ing sold in the coun­try will have dou­ble the stor­age of the usual model, at 16GB. The Mi4 will be avail­able at a re­tail price of R3 799, con­sid­er­ably cheaper than equiv­a­lent smart­phones with the same specs, dual SIM, LTE-ready.

The Redmi 2 has a 4.7-inch HD screen run on the Qual­comm Snap­dragon 410 quad core 1.2GHz pro­ces­sor. It also has an 8-megapixel rear cam­era with an f/2.2 aper­ture for low­light pho­tog­ra­phy.

The flag­ship Mi4 has a 5-inch HD dis­play pow­ered by the Qual­comm Snap­dragon 801 2.5GHz pro­ces­sor. Its rear cam­era is 13MP with an Æ’/1.8 aper­ture for even lower light work and an 8MP cam­era in the front for the selfie cra­zies.

And, if you weren’t an early adapter, a Gen­er­a­tion Y or a Gen­er­a­tion Z, you can get an Mi4 the tra­di­tional way – on a 24- month con­tract.

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