Handset companies look beyond the basics in game of Pros

Vivio-ProThat seems to be the flavour of the season for smartphone brands in India, with the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Realme, OnePlus and Huawei launching Pro — short for professional — versions of their base models.

The Pro versions, which brands claim to offer better features for a higher price, have created a separate segment for the companies to capitalise on. But analysts say many of the Pro versions launched so far in India have only cosmetic changes from the base ones — for instance, a better camera — but are priced as much as 50% higher, a strategy that they cautioned could backfire and hurt brand value.

Market leader Xiaomi, however, justified the launch of Pro versions, saying changing the nomenclature allowed consumers to better understand the difference between variants and make their selections easier.

On analyst views that the Pro strategy by brands could be misleading customers to pay a premium for not that many features, a Xiaomi spokesperson said: “A lot is dependent on the industry trend — if camera is the biggest trend in the market, then the brands are more likely to make that as their biggest USP.”

Others like OnePlus and Vivo also backed the Pro strategy, and downplayed analyst concerns. Oppo and Realme didn’t comment. Among other major players, Samsung doesn’t have any Pro models.

“The dual flagship strategy will allow us to deepen the bond with our core user base while also expanding the brand among a new set of premium users,” said Vikas Agarwal, the India head for OnePlus.

Nipun Marya, director of brand strategy at Vivo India, said its non-Pro version was aimed at consumers who wanted flagship device-like innovations at slightly lower prices.


Huawei said its innovations were dictated by consumer demands. “However, consumer demands are forever changing and it is difficult to accurately forecast the permanence of this,” the Chinese company said.

Till date, at least 94 Pro versions have been launched by as many as 31 brands. In 2019 so far, 10 Pro versions have been launched, data from research firm techARC showed.

techARC said for most Pro phones, parameters like OS, RAM, ROM, display size, battery capacity and processor clock rate did not show any definite trend that would differentiate a Pro version from its base model. However, there are also exceptions, it said.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing such to indicate in the Pro variants launched so far by the smartphone brands, which could qualify them to be seen as the smartphones for professionals,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder of research firm techARC.

The price variation is also stark, the techARC data suggested. The Pro version’s average price was Rs 20,668, almost 50% more compared with the base model’s average price of Rs 13,902. The disparity in the prices between brands was also wide: Pro versions launched in 2019 are priced in the range of Rs 7,000 to Rs 48,000. The costliest Pro version available is priced at nearly Rs 72,000.

“The pro version should have relevant and clear differentiation from the normal upgrade, otherwise consumers might lose faith in the brand, which can then affect its place in the market amid high competition,” said Tarun Pathak, associate research director at Counterpoint Research.