Interview with Pankaj Rana, Business Head of the Mobility Division at Panasonic India

By Xite - September 1, 2017
Local language compatibility will also be necessary, and will play a key role in a diverse smartphone market like India. Soon our phones will be compatible with 21 local Indian languages.

Pankaj Rana, Business Head of the Mobility Division at Panasonic India, enlightens us on what we can expect from their upcoming range of smartphones, and sheds some light on the current development stage of their AI-based virtual assistant – Arbo.

What are the biggest trends that you see in the smartphone industry – currently, and in the near future?The modern smartphone buyer is influenced mostly by two elements – battery life and camera performance. For us, the key is to find a balance with the operating system and the battery hardware. As for the camera, the current customer base is demanding impeccable quality images from the front camera as the modern generation loves taking selfies. In the near future, I believe we will see a rise in smartphones with curved screens, while music playing capabilities will be a key influencer for smartphone buyers as well.

With the Digital India campaign taking shape, what kind of technology do you feel will be required to support its requirements? 
The Indian Government is trying to digitise and link all personal data of individual citizens to Aadhaar cards. The government is planning to standardise these cards for official use across the board and for monetary transactions. To meet the necessary requirements, there will be a need to integrate retina scanner and fingerprint scanner technology into our smartphones as the UID Aadhaar cards feature biometric data, which will be used for ease of transactions and data collection.

Can you tell us more about your in-house developed artificial intelligence (AI)-based virtual assistant—Arbo? What are its current capabilities, and how have you had to tailor it for India?
The term ‘Arbo’ has been derived from the Spanish word ‘arbol’ – meaning tree. The idea behind it is that, like a tree grows naturally, Arbo’s AI system will grow with you. Arbo will understand your usage patterns and daily activities to predicatively provide you with recommendations. It will remind you of the things you need to do, the calls you need to make, and the routine you need to follow. Presently, Arbo is solely limited to text inputs as we are trying to make it work with voice commands but it is a challenge of its own as you can imagine. 

For the Indian market, we have had to tailor it to work with frequently used local apps like Zomato and Ola. Additionally, moving forward, local languages will also be introduced with Arbo.

With your latest range of products, you have ventured into online sales as well – something you’ve avoided in the past. Why the sudden change?
Recently, we invested heavily in a self distribution channel for our products and have formed a direct sales team, this has allowed us to streamline our sales channel to be able to deliver our products more efficiently to the market. The recent partnership we have developed with Flipkart was influenced by the fact that over 30% of smartphone sales in India are online. Additionally, this collaboration will allow us to reach consumers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, as they have a distribution network that will allow us to cater to a larger customer base more easily. 

Last year, you had stated that your target was to achieve 10% market share and a turnover of ₹2,500 crore. Can you tell us your progress since?
Demonetisation has, unfortunately, impacted our former target. We have revised those numbers now, and are currently targeting a turnover of ₹2,000 crore, and projecting 3 million in sales for our smartphones by the end of the year. We can safely say that our market share is also growing at a steady pace. 

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