TCL sees big mobile opportunity in SA’s mass market

TCL’s Ernst Wittmann

China’s TCL is one of the mainstays of the mobile phone industry, but its brand identity has not always been top of mind, especially in South Africa.

Using the Alcatel brand name for most of its time in the local market, partnerships with Palm and BlackBerry in the intervening years – followed by the decision to drive the TCL brand itself – have deterred the company from cementing a uniform, recognisable brand in the eyes of consumers.

But that may be about to change.

According to Ernst Wittmann, TCL regional manager for Southern and East Africa, the company has ditched the Alcatel branding in its new generation of mobile products, which include phones, tablets, pocket routers and dongles.

The company is also ramping up its local smartphone offerings with new devices. “We are the only consistent manufacturer that’s been in the market for 20 years,” said Wittmann.

TCL’s mobile device strategy has in the past focused on the mass market where customers are most price sensitive. The Alcatel 1T tab, for example, features a seven-inch display, 3G connectivity and 32GB of memory and retails at R999. TCL claims it is the top-selling low-end tablet in Africa. TCL sells the device through a partnership with the Vodacom Group and the product is aimed at children. “It is good for early learning as it comes with a lot of parental controls,” said Wittmann.

Kicka 6

In keeping with its strategy of targeting the mass market, the company also sells a rudimentary smartphone through Vodacom called the Kicka 6 for R999. The Kicka 6 has a six-inch screen, supports 4G/LTE, has 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The device has not, however, enjoyed the same popularity its tablet counterpart due to stiff competition from so-called tier-3 original equipment manufacturers that are making inroads into low-end markets across the globe.

According to International Data Corporation’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report for the second quarter of 2023, Shenzhen Transsion Holdings, which owns the brands Tecno, Itel and Infinix, experienced a 34% growth in sales in the period, making it the only manufacturer not to experience a downturn in that period.

“A typical tier-3 vendor does not pay the same expenses that we do; they do not have the same R&D costs,” said Wittmann.

Read: Chinese smartphone brands see strong African growth

The Kicka 6 was released in June 2023 and has sold about 150 000 units to date. The level of competition TCL has faced in the low-end market has, however, inspired its new approach to its upcoming product suite – all of which is branded TCL.

Over and above the upgrade to the Kicka 6, now branded as the TCL 501 with an added 1GB of RAM, the company is introducing a new mid-market offering called TCL NXTPaper which will retail for R3 999.

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NXTPaper aims to reduce the harmful effects that extended exposure to cellphone screens’ blue light has on users. According to Wittmann, the screen design filters this light at the hardware level without leaving any unpleasant yellowing that alters the natural colour of items being viewed.

A tablet featuring similar eye-care technology, the TCL Tab10, is also slated for release in the coming months. The Tab10 has 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and will retail for R1 999.

Other products set for release under the TCL banner in 2024 include a 5G router, 4G pocket router and a home Wi-Fi router. Wittmann hopes the brand’s unified identity, combined with its focus on eyecare in the mobile space will help the company expand its share of the market.

Read: China’s TCL eyes bigger slice of SA’s smartphone market

“More and more people are having to wear glasses because of the amount of time they spend on their screens, especially teenagers,” he said. “This is a unique offering in the market that TCL will be remembered for.”

To help drive brand recognition locally, TCL has signed a sponsorship agreement with the Mumbai Indians Cape Town cricket team, with TCL branding prominent on the team kit.  – © 2024 NewsCentral Media

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