Mxit officially launches in India, sets sights on massive feature phone base

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Sam Rufus Nallaraj- CEO Mxit India, Gary Kirsten & Roger Grobler, Chairman - Mxit India at the launch 2

Plans from Mxit, the South African based mobile social network, to expand into India have hardly been a well-kept secret, but it’s still a pretty interesting move and now it’s official.

Mxit today officially launched its India operation, headed up by Sam Rufus Nallaraj (a former contestant on The Apprentice Asia and Vice President at Deloitte & Touché in Hyderabad) with former South African cricketer and Indian coach Gary Kirsten as the face of its marketing campaign.

While India’s smartphone market is burgeoning, it looks like Mxit is aiming its sights squarely at the country’s massive feature phone user base.

In announcing the launch, Mxit made special note of the country’s 550-million feature phone users as well as the fact that it claims to be available on around 8 000 devices. The hope, it would seem, is that it’ll be able to hook those users while they’re on feature phones and retain their loyalty when they move up to smartphones.

That’s something it didn’t manage to do in its native South African market, where it seemed to vacillate between keeping its feature phone base happy while dragging itself reluctantly into slightly clumsy efforts at a smartphone offering.

While it won’t be easy, it is actually possible this time around; not least of all because it now actually has a user-friendly smartphone experience that won’t alienate anyone upgrading from a feature phone.

“Launching Mxit in India was a natural strategic next step, which allows us to continue building on the success we’ve had with the application in South Africa,” said Mxit CEO Francois Swart. “Expanding our emerging market footprint enables us to bring our innovative technology to the masses, making the ‘smartphone’ experience affordable to every consumer, regardless of the device they use”.

Interestingly, Nallaraj doesn’t seem to see Mxit as a competitor to homegrown Indian chat apps such as Hike or overseas megaliths like WhatsApp. Instead he reckons that it’ll get people away from SMS.

“India is currently the world’s largest feature phone market and continues to grow,” he said. “We’re excited at the prospect of enhancing the lives of Indians by providing a functionality otherwise not available to low-end handset users, as well as replacing the reliance on SMS on feature phones with a cheaper, more engaging chat alternative.”

The India launch comes at the same time as the company’s release of Mxit 7 for Android and BlackBerry. Until now, the new version of the mobile social network has only been available on feature phones and iOS.

Mxit 7 BB

“We’ve really focused on speed and simplicity for these two platforms,” said Mxit Chief Product Officer Vincent Maher. “We’ve taken away the home screen for BlackBerry users so they can access chats faster and added sound clips to group chat. On Android we’ve introduced fast account switching so that users can now create multiple profiles and switch between them quickly and easily.”

While there’s no doubt that the experience is better, it’s worth remembering that Mxit won’t necessarily be able to sway people who’ve gotten used to operating on other platforms.

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