No company sold handsets better than it did. Not in India. It customised products as McDonald’s did with aloo tikki and sold them like Lux soaps in neighbourhood stores. This disruptive innovation landed Nokia India almost 60% of the handset market by 2005. The brand became a synonym for the product. Indians didn’t go to buy a mobile phone. They went to buy a Nokia.

Now many of them don’t. Increasingly, Indians go to buy a Nokia and come out with a BlackBerry, Samsung or Micromax. According to the latest 2010 (January-September) report by IDC, a provider of market intelligence, Nokia’s market share was 56.2% in 2008 and 32.9% in 2010. The brand has lost its X factor.

Nokia India, however, disagrees, claiming its market share in CDMA and GSM handsets today is 52.2%. Technology research firm Gartner puts the 2010 figure at 30.3%. GfK-Nielsen estimates it at 44.8%. Nokia says the IDC report does not include shipments from Nokia’s manufacturing facility in Chennai. Also, it says that IDC’s statement that most of its shipments from the Chennai plant were exports was “inaccurate and untrue”.

“IDC and Gartner are reputed global firms which have a history of tracking numbers and trends. We do extensive work on the handset industry and we often use their reports,” says Jaideep Ghosh, executive director, KPMG India.

But Gautami Srinivasan, 19, hadn’t given up Nokia on the basis of IDC or Gartner reports. A Delhi-based beautician, Srinivasan wanted a basic phone. Features didn’t matter, price did. What better than a low-end Nokia?

“The salesman told me that Micromax Q1 had a dual SIM, loud speakers, expandable memory and an ABCD [Qwerty] keypad. It was cheap but looked expensive,” she says.

Smartphone users have found different reasons to convert. Sweta Kumar, a 28-year-old consultant, was bored with her toy and wanted to buy a Nokia C7. But she ended up buying a Samsung Ace. The salesman at the multi-brand store pushed Samsung as “the top brand in smartphones” and the “leader in touch technology”. What nailed the deal was the phone’s Android operating system.