In mid-February this year, it was reported that an Indian company named Ringing Bells was going to launch a smartphone that would cost a mere ₹500. Then, days later, Ringing Bells announced that the smartphone, named Freedom 251, would be launched at an unbelievable price of ₹251.
The company also announced that it had the support of many politicians in this venture. While people were wondering how a smartphone could be sold this cheaply, controversies began dogging Freedom 251 from the day of its launch on 18 February. The smartphone had been unveiled a day earlier, on 17 February, and right away some reporters found that the paint on the unit was coming off. It didn't take too much effort to scrape off the paint hiding the sample smartphone's real manufacturer's logo and discover that the device was in fact made by a company called Adcom.
The Ringing Bells website, where one could pay for and order the phone, was also riddled with security holes. The website's servers were down within hours after the sale started. Later, Ringing Bells said that they are going to refund those customers who had paid online and switch to a cash-on-delivery model.
Meanwhile, the government washed its hands off the venture and a BJP MP filed a complaint against the owners for misusing the tricolour. While no action was taken against the founder, Mohit Goel, Ringing Bells stayed out of news for a couple of months.
Late in June, the company announced that it is going to start delivering Freedom 251 devices from July. It hosted an event, announcing plans to make new phones, LCD TVs and also to begin the delivery of Freedom 251. While Ringing Bells claimed that some phones had already been delivered, there was no real evidence of that having happened. The most recent reports suggest that the company has now shut down and Mohit Goel has started a new venture.
A similar story, first emerging in March, featured a smartphone called Docoss X11. This phone was priced a little higher compared to Freedom 251 but at ₹888 it was still unbelievably cheap. And while its features, such as a 4-inch screen and an Android Kitkat were not terribly appealing, its booking website looked quite shady. There have since been no reports of any Docoss X11 phones being sold.
Also in March this year, just after the launch of a smartphone called mPhone or Mango Phone in Kerala, promoters of the phone, Josekutty Augustine and Anto Augustine, were arrested from the launch venue itself. A report in the Indian Express suggested that the two had duped banks to the tune of ₹2.68 crore and had been involved in such activity earlier too.
While mPhone was launched at a reasonably believable price of ₹5,000, the promoters' claim of an initial investment of ₹3,500 crores sounded dubious to say the least. As did their claim to have a research and development centre in Korea and a manufacturing unit in Shenzhen in China.
The most ridiculous phone launch of 2016 was a smartphone called Acche Din by a company called NamoTel. (Yes, you read that right.) Outdoing the Freedom 251, Achhe Din was priced at ₹99, brought down from the original price of ₹2,999, according to the company. When booking orders for the phone, Achhe Din added another ₹199 as delivery charges. The NamoTel website also didn't exactly add to the customer's confidence, featuring only one contact person, by the name of Madhav Reddy.
Strangely, NamoTel was going to sell phones to only those who had an Aadhar card. While no actual buyer ever surfaced, it was speculated that perhaps the company was trying to collect user data through Aadhar card details.
These so-called smartphone promoters displayed some similar tendencies. They tried to enter the market and lure customers using "Digital India" and "Make in India" buzzwords, coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and being promoted by the government. Ringing Bell's Goel even wanted Modi to invest in his startup. Their websites were mostly looked shady and were poorly put together, featuring no security measures and certainly no guarantee that the smartphones would actually be delivered upon booking.
Buyers would be advised to check the credibility of a phone seller and its past record before booking any devices. More than anything, these so called smartphone manufacturers can serve as cautionary tales of how not to run a business, be it a smartphone company or anything else.