U.S-based Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass said that it is ensuring that local brands in India have access to its latest products to better compete with global rivals. In an interview with ET’s Danish Khan, John Bayne, senior VP and general manager at Corning Gorilla Glass said that while other regions are either flat or have seen a decline, India’s handset market continues to grow, thereby assuming a greater role in the company’s growth journey. Edited excerpts
How do you see India as a growth market?
India is extremely important to Corning. Basically, every other region is flat to down where people have smartphones and the replacement cycle is lengthening. It will reverse once 5G starts to pick up. India, however, will be the fastest-growing market with 10% growth y-o-y. It is an incredibly important market.
Is India playing a bigger role for Corning Glass?
Absolutely! The growth in the Indian market is very close to local brands and ensuring that they have the right class of products. We have a very strong relationship with global brands that are strong in India like Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo, and Huawei. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure any consumer has the best possible glass to protect their smartphone since it is a big part of their disposable income to buy that smartphone and there will be first ones to upgrade it over time.
What role Corning will play in 5G and wireless charging segments?
If you look at consumer electronics, the same cycle always happens. Premium features come at a very high end and translate down to intermediate and value over time. It happens on TVs, computers and has happened in phones as well. Wireless charging is nice to have, while 5G will be a must on phones. With data transmission capabilities offered by 5G, everybody would want that. Historically, metal has been used on the back of devices. But it is a very poor technology choice. People will need to go plastic or glass in the back to enable wireless charging and high data rates transmission. Plastic, historically, is not very elegant material and can scratch easily, so we are seeing increased adoption of glass on the back. Right now, 42% of phones sold in the world have glass backs and that trend will continue to enable things like wireless charging and high data rates.
In India, domestic players have lost market share. Has it impacted your business in the country?
Typically, our strategy in India has been to make sure that local brands have access to the same exact glass and technology support that large global brands have. We want to make sure they have access to those materials so that they can compete with the best products against global brands. Regardless of their business growing or shrinking, we are going to be there. I with top brands met multiple times in India. We continue to do so to make sure they have access to the best products.
There is still a lot of innovation left in the market. We are seeing more 3D phones, edge-to-edge designs and more glass backs and all these innovations in the phone space will continue to drive the requirement for better glass.
A lot of brands are shifting R&D base to India. Do you think Corning Glass will be working closely with those brands for the India market?
Right now, we work very closely with all the brands and OEM partners. They have access to Corning lab facilities. We have labs in Asia and we make sure they have the same access as every brand does be it local brands or global brands. At some point, we put more technology and R&D assets in India, we have a strong presence in fibre business, we have a plant there. And it makes sense to increase that presence from an R&D standpoint at the right time. We will certainly consider that.
Do you see the transition from feature phone to the smartphone to further take the pace?
It is interesting in India. It has one of the lowest cost of data consumption in the world and we are seeing a shift from feature phones to smartphones. Smartphones have grown, but feature phones contracted 26% y-o-y in the second quarter. We are seeing this phenomenon which we predicted that Indian consumers would want an experience when they see the power of a smartphone. We will continue to see increasing smartphone adoption right now. 400 million people have smartphones and that's going to increase. 150 million smartphones are sold a year and that will increase and our goal is to make sure that local and global brands have the best smartphone devices in the segment they are interested whether it's value or premium. We want those devices protected by Gorilla Glass.
Do you see your products getting available at the entry-level smartphone segment?
We have Gorilla Glass products at every price point in value propositions from most economical to premium glasses. We have seen companies like Xiaomi using Gorilla Glass 5 and 6 down to intermediate and even the value segment. So, our premium glasses on value phones makes a tremendous amount of sense because people who can at least afford or buy a new phone are the people buying that first value phones. You want that phone protected. It's always been very confusing to us when a brand chooses a soda-lime glass or a very cheap glass to cover a Rs 7000 phone. For extra Rs 10-Rs 30 you can have one of the best glasses available on that device - why wouldn't they make that decision.
How do you want to sensitize customers about Gorilla Glass in India?
It is critical to the consumer to understand what choices are being made and what features run their phone so they can make the best-informed decision. We have very high brand awareness in India, which is a great thing. They understand the product and glass and want that product on their device.
Has Corning been impacted by the ongoing trade issue between US-China since the company has assets in China?
Just very little. We make some of our glass in the US and some in Asia. So, we can still make and sell glass out of Asia. That has enabled us to supply our customers in that area to the world with minimal disruption to this point.
Do you have a strong relationship with Chinese brands like Huawei and ZTE?
We have a strong relationship with almost all the OEMs throughout the world because they are all looking for the very best product to protect their devices. Corning, historically and even today is the glass of choice. We have seen people come in with knock off products but they are year or two after Corning because we are the innovators in the market.