Rapid growth in the number of domestic mobile users is creating opportunity for mobile handset makers to expand their sales.
While the local handset market has traditionally been dominated by a handful of brands, several new entrants are pushing their products in the hope of growing market sharing in a rapidly expanding business.
A June 2014 survey by On Device Research placed Chinese manufacturer Huawei as the brand of choice for the country’s consumers, followed by international heavyweights Samsung and Apple.
Yet other companies – often based in China – are also attempting to make their mark with consumers.
Customers like U Khin Maung Win have used Huawei because of the cheap costs for their smartphones, while maintaining strong quality levels.
“People like buying Huawei because it’s cheap compared to the rest of the market,” he said.
Yet the smartphone market is changing, spurred by growing competition from the top to the bottom ends of the market.
Apple began allowing at least four local retailers to sell its iPhones in February, after years of grey-market iPhones being the only local option. Samsung has also made a push for market share, though its models appear to tackle a wider swath of the market than the American brand.
At the mass-market end of the spectrum, a number of Chinese brands, such as Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomei, have recently begun offering smartphones at affordable prices.
Vivo first entered Myanmar and several other ASEAN countries last year, but hopes to become the third-most popular smartphone within three years, its chief executive Wang Chang Miao told The Myanmar Times at a Nay Pyi Taw event last week.
“Vivo is trying to take 7 percent of Myanmar customers to be our customers during three years,” he said.
The firm has rapidly expanded its branding, claiming to be sold at 1000 shops and employing 1000 staff across the country.
Vivo last week launched its X5 Max handset, including a number of features demanded by local consumers – such as two quality cameras.
Shopkeepers say different brands appeal to different market segments.
U Tun Tun, owner of A Mobile Shop, said Samsung is becoming more popular with affluent urban consumers, though Huawei does well more budget-conscious buyers.
“I’d say 70 percent of mobile buyers make their decision off of price, and 30pc by appraising quality,” he said.
U Tun Tun said he recommends different models of mobiles depending on what users are looking for – for instance, he says some of Nokia’s products work well for those who are less technologically savvy.
One striking element of the local handset market is the massive popularity of smart phones. While smart phones may start at around K80,000, feature phones still allow internet access for K20,000. While statistics are hard to come by, phone shops say their customers overwhelming clamour for the expensive smartphone option.
Ma Moe, an employee of Mr Fone Telecom Centre, said customers want options. Women are keen to buy handsets with good cameras, while a certain type of customer is keen on making sure the handset they buy is the latest.
Industry observers said the main factor in the rapid changes in mobile handsets sales is increased connectivity. Incumbent telco MPT has significantly improved its coverage, while rivals Ooredoo and Telenor now have six months of operations in the country.
Mobile penetration rates have likewise shot up. Most estimates had mobile penetration at around 10pc before the August launch of Ooredoo – meaning for every 100 people, there were 10 phones. Earlier this year, deputy telecoms minister U Thaung Tin said penetration stood at about 30pc at the end of 2014, a rate which has likely only increased.
With all the growth, industry leader Huawei is attempting to stay on top.
It is moving into novel product lines such as wearable technology, planning to begin selling its TalkBand B2 and TalkBand N1 fitness-focused wearables and a Huawei Watch in Myanmar this year. An official from the Myanmar Huawei office said TalkBand B2 will likely arrive in May, TalkBand N1 in June and Huawei Watch in July or August. Still, wearables represent a new frontier in consumer technology, not only in Myanmar but around the world. The jury is still out on whether consumers will be as quick to purchase them as they are smartphones.
While wearables still need to impress, the smartphone market is only getting busier.