MUMBAI: Feature phones are expected to continue as the main form of mobile communication in India for the immediate future, according to a  leading manufacturer, despite the country's emergence as the third largest smartphone market in the world.

Maxx Mobiles, the Mumbai-based company which has been operating for just nine years, will have launched 500 handset models by 2014 and half of them will be feature phones, complementing 200 Android-powered smartphones and 50 tablets.

Ajay Agarwal, the chairman and managing director of Maxx Mobiles, told Daily News & Analysis that it would take at least four years for smartphones to overtake feature phone sales in India, mainly because users are not yet comfortable with touchscreen technology. 

"Feature phones still make up 80% of handset sales while out of the remaining 20% smartphone sales only 5% are active 3G customers," he added.

The company also plans to start manufacturing smartphones this month and hopes to be making 10,000 a day by April next year.

Agarwal attributed the continuing rise of domestic brands to price differences compared with international brands and also to increased marketing of local handsets by retailers and distributors.

"In India, 90% of handsets are sold on emotions and recommendations, so retailers have started stocking more Indian brands," he explained.

India remains the largest feature phone market in the world, according to analysts IDC India, which also expects significant growth in low-cost smartphones as users upgrade from their feature devices.

It has advised manufacturers that the key to success in the Indian market is to focus on smartphones that have a large screen and cost below $200.

Domestic brands have responded quickly to this trend and now account for more than half the total smartphone market.

As more consumers begin to value local products, it is expected that the majority of users who upgrade from feature phones will most likely opt for a local brand.

Data sourced from Daily News and Analysis India; additional content by Warc staff