“As a fraction of its GDP, India underspends on research and development”

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Tasleem Arif, VP and head – R&D, Oppo India

The great Indian smartphone game is getting more interesting, day by day. Foreign players are finding themselves investing a lot more in India—for manufacturing, design or R&D. Recently, Oppo launched its latest R&D centre in Hyderabad—its first R&D unit in the country. So why did Oppo choose India as an R&D destination? What would be the scope of work from here? What are the plans going forward? Paromik Chakraborty of EFY Group caught up with Tasleem Arif, VP and head – R&D, Oppo India, to get all these questions answered.

Tasleem Arif, VP and head – R&D, Oppo India

EB: How will the new facility in Hyderabad fit into the existing design engineering and R&D operations of Oppo?
India has always been a high priority market for us and the recently launched R&D centre plays a pivotal role in the growth of Oppo locally. While quality checking activities were routine, the R&D centre will play a bigger role and focus on localising software and building a local ecosystem to retain users on our platforms

EB: Why India?
India is a strategic market for us, primarily because there is tremendous potential to grow in the local smartphone market. With the advent of affordable smartphones intended for the Indian market and increasingly low cost data connectivity options, more people are shifting to smartphones and mobile Internet.

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It is a very attractive and price-sensitive market and there is a certain section of consumers that is extremely technology-savvy and looking for innovative and power-packed devices. The way consumers choose and buy smartphones is continuously evolving, and that means you need to have a diverse portfolio of products and price points to appeal to a wide range of buyers.

Our focus is to engage with more people. India forms the centrepiece of our global growth strategy. As part of our long-term strategy, Oppo will continue to drive investments in India and will further strengthen its R&D capabilities. We have already invested over US$ 593 million globally in R&D, and will invest another US$ 1.48 billion in 2019 with a focus on the recently launched Hyderabad centre.

EB: How’s the R&D unit different from the sales and marketing setup?
Our research team tries and understands the viability of a potential product by taking continuous consumer feedback.

Therefore, the R&D unit will be used in a number of ways including integrating the supply chain, recruiting new talent and developing new technologies.

EB: What challenges do you envisage in achieving your goals?
Due to a diverse set of consumers, finding the real demand becomes a challenge for us. Hence, we keep developing proactive applications and carry out research on technologies that go beyond current user demands to create a technological edge in our upcoming products. We regularly invest in market research to better understand the trends, emerging consumer demands and behaviour.

EB: What strategy do you plan to follow to achieve your goals?
To achieve our goals, Oppo will invest in technical innovation, product design and after-sales services. One of our key goals is to increase investments in R&D to help strike a perfect balance between the design and technological innovation of the smartphone. We focus on developing scenario-based applications around users’ demands, and insist on conducting technological research and product development, simultaneously.

EB: What will you focus on more—hardware or software?
Our focus will be mostly on software, which will lead to hardware updates soon.

EB: Are there any plans or investments for domestic manufacturing in India?
Oppo recently set up a greenfield electronics manufacturing cluster (EMC) in Greater Noida, to manufacture electronics and support accessories in the country as well as generate employment opportunities in the state. The EMC unit will produce close to 200,000 product units daily, generating employment for around 25,000 – 30,000 people. Facilities at the EMC include a tool room and R&D lab, alongside other manufacturing and support services.

EB: How do you plan to reach out to Indian consumers in order to understand their expectations, and how will your team correlate that with R&D?
We will continue to leverage our customer feedback, which we take very seriously and use as an input for our R&D and design teams to keep working towards improving our products.

EB: Do share your views on India’s R&D and electronics design ecosystem—what are the existing obstacles and possible solutions?
R&D is of great importance, or one can say, it is the foundation for the development of any country. In a developing nation like ours, the government is ensuring relevant investments in R&D across industries, encouraging big companies and brands under the Make in India initiative to bolster the growth and development of the Indian economy.

As per the Economic Survey 2017-18, gross expenditure on R&D in India has tripled in nominal terms over the last decade. However, as a fraction of GDP, India underspends on research and development (R&D), even relative to its level of development. This only means that there is a lot of potential and many opportunities in this sphere for the country and for brands in India to grow in the near future.

EB: Any further expansion and investments planned in India going forward (including R&D and design)?
The R&D fund will be used in a number of ways including integrating the supply chain, recruiting new talent, and developing new technologies.

In addition to the existing R&D system, the Oppo Research Institute is the company’s latest investment. It will conduct research in software, hardware, and mobile standards. Outside China, Oppo has established R&D centres in Japan and US, and will continue to build more joint labs with overseas research institutes and universities, as well as R&D teams comprising local talent.

EB: What are your plans for setting up testing facilities in India?
We have already set up a testing facility in India, which has been supporting us from the very beginning. We are currently in the process of increasing its strength to support our R&D operations.

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