Making a mobile statement in Asia

For Asia's hip and swanky, carrying a mobile phone with a cracked screen and a tatty plastic cover is tantamount to a crime against fashion.

    Mobile phones must have all the bells and whistles - and more

    Instead, a Prada ensemble with Gucci loafers or Manolo

    Blahnik stilettos demands nothing less than a diamond-encrusted

    handset from China's TCL Mobile Communication Co Ltd or an

    18-carat white gold mobile with a sapphire crystal face by

    Nokia unit Vertu.

     

    Indonesian haute couture designer Harry Darsono, 54,

    carries a $26,550, 215-gramme platinum Vertu cell phone to match

    his Lanvin shirts and Hugo Boss shoes when he entertains

    customers.

     

    "I am very fussy. My hand phone, handbag and attire must be

    part of the overall art of presentation to the clients - you

    need to use their language so you can be close to them," said

    Darsono, who was educated in France and collects vintage pianos

    and luxury cars.

     

    While mobile makers are tight-lipped on revenues from their

    luxury segments, analysts say high-end sales could provide a

    lift as penetration rates level off and the take-up of

    high-speed data services remains lacklustre.

     

    "Luxury and glamour models offer a different level of

    interest and engagement for consumers, which would spur them on

    to buy more new and beautiful phones," said Ian Woodward, a

    consumer behaviour researcher at Australia's Griffith

    University

     

    Indonesian haute couture designer Harry Darsono, 54,

    carries a $26,550, 215-gramme platinum Vertu cellphone to match

    his Lanvin shirts and Hugo Boss shoes when he entertains

    customers

    London-based Vertu and Finnish parent Nokia, the world's

    top handset maker, began developing the luxury models as early a

    s 1997, Vertu President Nigel Litchfield said.

     

    "As the industry became increasingly saturated in the last

    few years, manufacturers were compelled to discover new markets

    and identify upcoming trends in mobile phone consumption."

     

    At the end of 2003, Asia accounted for a third of Vertu's

    total business, Litchfield said, adding that Hong Kong was its

    largest single market.

     

    Fashion phones

     

    Shiv Putcha, senior analyst with The Yankee Group, believes

    fashion phones could invigorate sales for handset makers, as

    slow data download speeds, poor content and handset glitches

    leave users disappointed with 2.5G and third-generation (3G)

    networks. 

     

    "Most of the models in the market do not address the

    consumer's need for increased personalisation, and I believe

    this to be a significant driver of growth," he said.

     

    Given Asia's high cell phone replacement rate - every nine

    to 18 months compared with about two years for Europe and the

    United States - the region is the logical market to launch

    iconic handsets, Putcha said. 

    The line between communication
    device and jewellery is blurring

     

    Motorola Inc, the world's second-largest cellphone maker,

    said its line of fashion phones enjoyed triple-digit growth

    rates in the first quarter of 2004 over the final three months

    of 2003 in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India,

    Bangladesh and Pakistan.

     

    "In Asia, phones are much more of an aspirational statement

    about who you are and who you want to be," said Scott Durchslag, a

    Motorola corporate vice president.

     

    Motorola recently launched a clamshell V600 model that

    offers interchangeable covers studded with clear Swarovski

    crystals, and Nokia's new 7200 model offers fabric covers that

    have analysts calling it the Louis Vuitton phone. 

     

    Gem-encrusted handsets also became the rage in China, the

    world's largest wireless market, after TCL Mobile made waves in

    2000 with the launch of its diamond-studded mobile phones.

     

    Its limited edition range with genuine gemstones costs up

    to $2400.

     

    Lucky charms

     

    TCL Mobile, which is seeking a separate listing in Hong

    Kong and is 40.8%-owned by TCL International Ltd,

    controls about one-tenth of China's cellphone market.

     

    "Attaching jewellery on the phone adds a cultural and

    spiritual dimension to the product," said TCL Mobile's managing

    director, Wan Ming Jian.

     

    "To many Chinese, precious stones symbolise esteem, good

    fortune, peace and love. So, jewelled mobile phones are not just

    communication tools, they also act as lucky charms"

    Wan Ming Jian,
    managing director, TCL Mobile

    "To many Chinese, precious stones symbolise esteem, good

    fortune, peace and love. So, jewelled mobile phones are not just

    communication tools, they also act as lucky charms," he said.

     

    TCL Mobile sold more than 12 million jewelled phones -

    most of which had fake gems - between 2001 and the first six

    months of 2003.

     

    Analysts said handset makers in China - numbering between

    30 and 50 - needed to differentiate their products to survive

    in one of the world's most fragmented and competitive markets.

     

    "Growth in China's mobile phone sales has been slowing -

    from 50% in 2002 to 30% last year, and a forecast

    10 to 15% in 2004," said an analyst with BOCI Securities

    Ltd in Hong Kong.

     

    "You need to stimulate your customers to buy new phones by

    adding new features. You have to distinguish yourself from the

    competition to protect your market share," he said. 

    SOURCE: Reuters


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