John Sculley’s Obi Unveils Budget Smartphones

| Technology

A smartphone company co-founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley has unveiled its first own devices, which will be aimed at young consumers in emerging markets

Sculley last year launched Obi Mobiles, which until now has been selling generic, white-labelled Android devices. Now rebranded as Obi Worldphone, the company last week introduced the SF1 and SJ1.5 at an event in San Francisco.

Priced between $129 and $249, the devices sit within the mid-end of the market, with Obi positioning them as filling the void between high-end manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung and entry-level devices by China companies. Both devices run on the Android operating system, layered with the Obi Lifespeed custom user interface. The rollout of the new handsets is expected to begin in October.

In announcing the devices, Sculley placed a major emphasis on the design of the product, which was led by former Apple Director of Industrial Design Robert Brunner and his San Francisco-based team at Ammunition. “We’ve had the privilege to work with the best design-led company in America. But Apple’s at the premium, high end of the market, clearly admired by people all over the world.

“There’s another part of the market, a much different price point in the market, that’s been left out of beautiful, design-led products. And by design-led, we didn’t just hire Robert Brunner and the Ammunition team to do some design for us. We said: ‘We want you to be an equity partner with us in Obi Worldphone. We want your team to be incentivised for success with Obi Worldphone. We want you to be involved all the way through it.'”

According to the latest data from Gartner, worldwide smartphone sales recorded the slowest growth rate since 2013 in the second quarter of 2015, with 330 million units sold to end users, up 13.5% on the same period in 2014.

However, Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner, said demand for lower-cost 3G and 4G smartphones “continued to drive growth in emerging markets.” Gartner added that Emerging Asia/Pacific (excluding China), Eastern Europe and Middle East and Africa were the fastest-growing regions.

With its previous, white-labelled devices, Obi claims to have gained a 5.2% market share in the UAE, where its exclusive distribution partner has been Jumbo Electronics.

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