Indian handset maker Karbonn Mobiles says it is gearing for a comeback
in the Indian smartphone segment, and claims that a new manufacturing
facility at Bawal, Haryana is its biggest asset. The company also has
big plans in the AI space and says that an official announcement is
around the corner.

“We are going to be the first Indian brand to
make inroads into artificial intelligence (AI), and one of the first
devices with AI can be expected to be brought in as early as this
quarter,” Shashin Devsare, Executive Director, Karbonn Mobiles told
Gadgets 360, mentioning Siri and Cortana as inspirations for software
that will learn more about you over time. “It’s also worth noting that
while we are talking simplicity and empowerment of Indian consumers and
we are keeping the prices in check, we are not compromising in bringing
the new technology to India.”

“We don’t look to repeat what
Google or Apple have already done,” explains Jain. “What we are looking
at as artificial intelligence would be a very deeper integration of how
you able to make up your mind for, let’s say shopping. Karbonn’s new AI
device will be unveiled with an exclusive partnership with an e-commerce
player and the announcement should follow in coming weeks.”

Karbonn Mobiles was one of the top seven smartphone vendors in the country (by shipments) until last year. In 2016 however, the
company reduced the number of smartphones it launched in India, and it
no longer figures amongst the top smartphone vendors.

Scaling back has however allowed Karbonn Mobiles to focus
on more strategic plans – starting with the company’s first AI
(artificial intelligence) enabled device. Gadgets 360 recently got a
chance to meet Pradeep Jain, Managing Director, Karbonn Mobiles, while
visiting the company’s new manufacturing plant that has been set up in
partnership with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vsun. The company
claims that the new facility is the largest smartphone manufacturing
plant in India right now, and Jain added that manufacturing giant
Foxconn, which is also setting up plants in India,
is at least a few months away from a facility in India that can compete
with this one.

“Currently, we have about 10.5 percent
[mobile phone] market share in the country,” Jain says. “We are looking
at 16 to 20 percent smartphone market share in coming years and we can
make it to that number with the help of ‘Make in India’ initiative. We
have plans that in a year we will start making 70 percent of components
in India. Our focus has been to first establish local manufacturing unit
and then launch new smartphones,” he added, and then said that Karbonn
will launch about 10 new smartphones over the next six months.

Taking on Foxconn?
Karbonn was already making 1.5 million devices in its two older
plants, located in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. It’s new ISO 9001 and 14001
certified facility in Haryana is its third manufacturing plant, and can
currently manufacture 1.5 million units in a month, a number that is set
to increase to 2.5 million by end of 2016.


“It’s not that
there are duties that have been brought down by the government that a
manufacturing initiative has been taken forward,” says Devsare, talking
about Make In India and the planning behind the construction of the new
facility. “Maybe by other brands but that’s not what Karbonn believes.
What we are looking at is significantly achieving growth by
manufacturing with low defect ratios, customised products for the local
market, and faster time to market.”

Devsare says Vsun is the
third largest smartphone manufacturer in China with expertise in
manufacturing. “This was one of the reasons why we did this partnership
with Vsun. We believe that in over a year we will match the capacity of
what Foxconn facilities [in China] can manufacture,” he adds.

Jain says that Karbonn will enter the television segment in the coming
three months. He refused to reveal more details such as the screen sizes
or the price segments the company will be targeting, and added that
Karbonn does not plan to enter any other electronics product category
right now. However, he did reveal that Karbonn plans invest around Rs.
2,000 crores over the next year in the country. Jain also confirmed
plans for a new facility in Tirupati, which will have surface-mount
technology (SMT) production and assembly lines including charger and
battery units for the supplies.


Given the increased
manufacturing capacity that the new facility gives Karbonn, and the
repeated references the brand made to Foxconn, we wondered if this meant
that Karbonn is looking at entering the manufacturing space, for other
brands. “If any other brand wants to associate with us for
manufacturing, we definitely will look forward with our new facility,”
Jain quips.

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