Realme CEO Madhav Sheth on Its IoT Ecosystem, SLED TVs, and the Impact of COVID-19

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Realme recently announced a host of new IoT (Internet of Things — connected devices like smart lights and voice assistants) products expanding its connected devices portfolio in the country. These products include a 360 smart camera, electric toothbrush, power bank, earphones, soundbar, and more. Realme is using the term AIoT to refer to these products (perhaps to help itself stand out) and in its announcement it talks about bringing AI and IoT together — even in a toothbrush, apparently.

It also unveiled its latest entrant in the Realme 7 series, the Realme 7i. It also introduced the Realme Smart SLED TV that comes with a “bezel-less, metal design.” Earlier this year, the company debuted its first product in the range of connected devices, the Realme Band, back in back in March and told us that it will add more products in the second quarter of this year.

“IoT is going to be our next business growth in India,” is what Madhav Sheth, vice president at Realme and chief executive officer for Realme India and Europe said earlier this year. Now, with the launch of new connected devices, we spoke with Sheth to get an insight on the move towards IoT products, SLED technology, and the effect of COVID-19 on the company’s plans. Edited excerpts follow:

Gadgets 360: Why the move into IoT products, why now, and how did Realme decide what products to develop and launch?

Madhav Sheth: Actually, the dream to bring a smart, connected life to India consumers and become the most tech-lifestyle brand started when we initiated. Smartphones are the core of the whole ecosystem hence we started there and quickly became a mainstream smartphone brand. Hence this year it’s the right timing to move forward to start building our way to the most popular tech-lifestyle brand in India while maintaining our position as the World’s Fastest Growing Smartphone brand.

Realme aims to launch multiple AIoT products in 2020 around ‘Personal, Home, and Travel’ experience, which are the main lifestyle segments for our target audience and help us decide what products to develop and launch for our consumers. We keep collecting feedback from our community and market to understand consumers’ demand. You can see the products we launched lie in categories with massive demand.

Any insights into pricing for India – what prices work for people, will these be impulse purchases or are people ready to spend a lot and outfit their entire homes?

Similar to the smartphone industry, India consumers prefer entry-level and mid-range AIoT products, up to Rs. 10,000. We didn’t find it’s impulse purchase. People do have the demand and would like to spend some money to experience a much smart, convenient life. Most consumers may not be ready to spend huge money but it’s worthwhile to spend a certain amount.

What’s the bigger picture in terms of integration/ ecosystem between phones, TVs, watches, earphones, appliances, etc?

Realme aims to be the most popular tech-lifestyle brand in India and globally, led by our 1+4+N product strategy. The focus is to create a portfolio of an entire range of AIoT solutions that a consumer uses in his daily lifestyle and users can use the core smartphone and four hubs category to control other AIoT products like Smart Bulb, Smart Plug, etc. In the future, more Realme AIoT products will be available to access the smart home network to enable consumers experience the cool, smart, interconnected life, with which they can control all the smart devices with just a click or saying a simple word.

What is SLED tech? And is it more cost effective to manufacture compared to other displays? Can it be brought down to smartphones as well?

SLED is based on the highly reputed RGB backlight technology. White light is formed by three primary colours — the RGB, or red, green and blue. Now, while most LED televisions including QLED use only a blue backlight which is then turned to white, SLED uses Red, Green, and Blue LED lights in the initial stage which reduces the harmful effects of blue light while delivering vivid colour. In technical terms, SLED display allows television to have an ultra-wide colour gamut of up to 108 percent NTSC, which is as high as most QLED displays and well ahead of a regular LED television, which has a colour gamut of only 70 percent.

And compared to QLED, it brings the same high level colour gamut but is more cost effective.

We are open to apply SLED on smartphones. Yet more R&D work will be required while looking into necessity and feasibility considering different display size and other factors. Will keep you posted.

Is the SLED tech in the TV exclusive to Realme? Was it developed in house, and how does Realme feel about customer education? How will buyers get to understand what’s new and different?

The SLED Display Technology is co-developed by Realme in partnership with John Rooymans, Chief Scientist of SPD Technology (Spectral Power Distribution) and will be exclusively available to Realme customers as of now.

We believe that customers’ education is very important, especially when we are launching new products with new innovative technologies which are trendsetting in nature. We educate our customers through various professional mediums and create various touch points between Realme and buyers to understand what’s new and what’s different. We have our fans following us in large numbers on Realme’s social media handles along with active fans in Realme’s community, where we share our product insights and answer to their queries. Proper training to our offline promoters and distributors will also be done to help offline consumers understand better.

How have the 32-inch and 43-inch TVs performed in the market?

Our first Realme TV products the Realme smart TV 32-inches and 43-inches became instant superstars in the Indian TV market as we brought the smart TV experience with leading visual and audio effects to every user through the device. We achieved great heights with our sales clocking nearly 250,000 units in just four months since launch and have recently shifted 100 percent assembly to India.

Why are you launching so many products, especially phones, with prices that are so close to each other?

Realme has always been a product-oriented brand catering to users’ needs. We have a comprehensive product line-up because we see a demand for our products from the consumers.

Also, Realme’s smartphones portfolio is very clearly defined: below Rs. 10,000 – Realme C Series which is Entry Level Value King; Rs. 10,000 – Rs. 20,000 – Realme Number and Pro series as the Youth Flagship; Above Rs. 20,000 – Realme X and X Pro series being the Ultimate flagship; and lastly the Narzo series – performance oriented smartphone for Young players who are multi-taskers and game lovers.

If at any given point we launch two smartphones at a similar price, it is because the selling point and target audience of each product are different. We study the requirements of our users, and accordingly bring our products to the market. We believe that this approach of ours has contributed to our growth and made Realme World’s fastest-growing smartphone brand and has offered our customers a variety of products to choose from and experience.

How has the pandemic/lockdown situation affected the company’s plans? Were these products initially supposed to be launched earlier, and is there any change in consumer sentiment? Are things back to normal?

Due to the lockdown in March and April and suspension of sales and manufacturing, we lost one and a half month’s volume. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns also impacted our timelines, for example, the Narzo 10 series which was originally scheduled for March was launched in the month of May, but overall our plans have remained unaffected.

In terms of consumer sentiment and demand, the demand post COVID is quite different. Due to multiple factors, consumers are now more inclined towards buying budget and mid-range smartphones. Realme has a wide portfolio in these segments, and we are currently seeing a demand for 10-15 million handsets from the brand. Realme has managed to revamp 80 percent of its production capabilities and is trying to meet the demands of the customers in the market.

With so many launches in the audio segment, is this a big area of growth for Realme in India?

The demand for audio segment is quite high in India, especially in the wireless earphones segment. Realising the market potential, we entered the India wireless earphone market in September 2019 and have been picking up momentum since then, especially in the TWS category. We captured three spots in the top five models in shipments. As per Counterpoint Q2 India Hearables (TWS) report, Realme emerged as the No.1 TWS brand with the Realme Buds Air Neo (Review) and Buds Q (Review).

The audio segment is an important part of our new 1+4+N strategy as a hub to control other AIoT products. It as well and we have already introduced multiple products under the Smart Earphone category, and all these products have been appreciated by our consumers.

Considering there’s no first-hand experience with online purchasing, how does Realme plan to approach these new categories, especially premium products like the TV?

Due to matching target groups for our products – smartphones and AIoT – we have made all our products available online on our official website as well as our partner websites, Flipkart.com and Amazon.com. Partnership with experienced e-commerce players like Flipkart and Amazon enables us to engage with larger audiences, and gain more visibility as a tech-lifestyle brand.

Besides this, since the launch of our first smart TV in May and a number of subsequent AIoT product launches since then, we have got enough first-hand experience with online purchasing and sales of our premium products.

Like our smartphones, we always invite professional media and community fans to try out the products in advance and share their opinions to more people for reference as well as an important input to optimize our products.

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