What happened to the $4 smartphone?

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Search for the Freedom 251 online and the results throw up different images. Otherwise called the $4 smartphone, the Freedom 251 is almost as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. Very few people have held the 4-inch Android smartphone in their hands. Below is the press image that the Indian maker, Ringing Bells, pushed out at the February 2016 announcement:

Ringing Bells Freedom 251

But that design never made it to the final product. We finally got an authentic image of what the final device that shipped in July 2016 looks like, thanks to a hands-on article on CNET:

Freedom 251

Not much has been heard about this exotic mobile device since July 2016 when the first batch shipped. What exactly has happened to the $4 smartphone?

Freedom Is Not So Free

The Freedom 251 has been reported as costing much more than $4 to manufacture, meaning that the device is being sold at a heavily subsidised price. That isn’t a surprise. Informed estimates put the manufacturing cost at $20-$25. The ultra-low price is made possible through partnerships with software companies who have their apps pre-installed on the phone. Still, Ringing Bells is reported to lose at least $2 on each unit of the phone.

All sorts of controversies have dogged the $4 smartphone project, including allegations of Ringing Bells using a re-badged smartphone from other manufacturers.

Ringing Bells had promised to deliver 2.5 million phones by July 2016. In July, the company claimed to have just 200,000 units ready at that time. Available reports say that only 5,000 units were delivered.

Eventually, Ringing Bells asked the Indian government for $7.5 billion to keep the project afloat. The maths wasn’t working out. Finding an official statement from the company has been hard going. The official website is unavailable at the time of publishing this. The very concept of a 4$ smartphone – an affordable device for millions of Indians – is laudable. But, as projects go, this one seems to have been truncated in its early stages.

Aluta continua.


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