If you had lingering doubts that the so-called “$4 smartphone” is anything more than a poorly conceived publicity stunt, the events of these days should clear them up.
Back in February, Ringing Bells, the company that claims to be manufacturing the world’s cheapest smartphone, promised it would ship 2.5 million units of the Rs. 251 Freedom 251 by the end of June. Then the figure went down to 200,000 units and the deadline slipped successively from June 28, to June 30, to July 6, and now, July 8.
It’s not just the shipping date that keeps getting adjusted. Mohit Goel, the shady CEO of Ringing Bells, went from promising an initial batch of 200,000 units, to 10,000 units, and then 5,000 units in a matter of days.
Just to put things in perspective, Ringing Bells said it collected 70 million registrations for the device in February. 30,000 people supposedly paid for the phone.
Surely, Ringing Bells just needs time to gain momentum, right? Well, not quite. The company also backtracked on Goel’s promise to ship 200,000 Freedom 251 units every month. Instead, after the first batch, the company may ship… zero devices.
“We may deliver more units if we get help or we may not deliver at all in the upcoming months. We are only focusing on the giving away the devices now,” – Ringing Bells representative
What is this help that Ringing Bells is talking about? Oh, glad you asked! Mohit Goel sent an open letter to the Indian Prime Minister asking for financial support to put a Freedom 251 in the hands of 750 million Indian citizens. Here’s an excerpt:
“We have brought ‘Freedom 251’ which we offer on ‘Cash on Delivery’ terms but we have a gap between the BOM (Bill of Materials) and the Selling Price. We, therefore, humble request government support to actualise the objective to cascade the availability and usage of smartphones all through the far reaches of our great nation”
A noble plan to be sure, but there’s a problem: Ringing Bells says it needs Rs. 500 billion to make it work. For international readers, that’s around $7.4 billion.
So yeah, unless Ringing Bells gets this small help, it may not ship anything.
When pressed by Indian media on how they plan to actually make the business work, Ringing Bells representatives made vague comments about economies of scale, ad-generated revenue, and of course, the cloud (a service called WhiteCloud would supposedly see Freedom 251 users download hundreds of apps for Rs. 1 to Rs. 3 each).
Our guess is the real business plan is to gather a ton of email addresses (check!), make a big fuss about an impossibly cheap phone (check!), and use the publicity to kick start sales of other devices (in progress!).
Indeed, Ringing Bells announced today an HD TV, a line of power banks, feature phones, and two new smartphones called Elegance and Elegant (yes, really). Don’t expect the same low price tag as the Freedom 251’s though. The Elegant costs Rs. 3,999 ($59) and the Elegance costs Rs. 4,499 ($66).
Just to understand what we’re dealing with here, Ringing Bells flat-out stole the lockscreen design of the LG G5 and put it on the press images of the Elegance and Elegant.
Then again, this shouldn’t be surprising coming from a company that used correction fluid to hide the branding from their supposed “prototypes.”
At this point, the only thing we can recommend is to avoid Ringing Bells and anything associated with it as much as you can. If you need a cheap phone, there are many devices from real companies that won’t try to scam you.