Google Android One: For the next five billion users

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Sep 22 2014, 17:36pm hrs
Google Android OneGoogle, with its Android One initiative, is trying to make high-quality smartphones accessible to as many people as possible.
Knowledge is a game changer. If you have read the 2011 best-seller The Google Guys, gracefully written by Richard Brandt, youll get a sense of what really motivates the companys two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In the words of Brandt, they have commercialised the Internet and started an Information Revolution the way Thomas Edison spurred the Industrial Revolution by harnessing electricity and saying, Let there be lightbulbs.

For the uninitiated, Google was founded in late 1998 by these two Stanford University computer science graduate students. The worlds most powerful Internet company came out of a project that only a computer scientist could love: developing technology to search through large electronic databases of published research papers.

Instead, they came upon a much greater solution a better way to search through the giant morass of data that is the Internetand ended up turning their technology into one of the biggest, most influential companies in technology today.

Just as Google Search has brought information at the fingertips of billions of people, Google, with its Android One initiative, is trying to make high-quality smartphones accessible to as many people as possible. Analysts estimate Google Android One based phones to reach roughly 2 million units this year and roughly 16 million units next year as the programme expands beyond India to other markets such as Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia.

But technology alone does not make a successful company; business tactics do, and to say that Google has struck the right business chord in the mobile phone industrywith its Android One initiativewould be the understatement of the twenty-first century. Its Android phone operating system dominates the global smartphone market, with over 255 million units shipped and nearly 85% of the market share in the second quarter of 2014, says IDC. The worldwide smartphone market grew 25.3% y-o-y in the second quarter of 2014, establishing a new single quarter record of 301.3 million shipments.

Closer home, Google launched its first device from its Android One initiative last week. The company has tied up with homegrown handset makers

Micromax, Karbonn and Spice Mobiles to launch the R6,399 phone. The company has also roped in Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and chipmaker Qualcomm as partners for its

Android One programme.

Android One is a great new beginning and a sign of strategic importance that Google is giving to the Indian market for its mobile play, says Praveen Bhadada, directormarket expansion, Zinnov. We believe that Google has got the strategy right by offering a low-cost device with quality hardware specs, free data and free content subscriptions for users.

What does Android One mean for the mobile industry

According to Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research, Google has been losing control over the Google ecosystem since the proliferation of Android based devices especially in high-volume emerging markets especially China. Most of the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have tried to fork the Android and replace the key GMS (Google Mobile Services) elements piece by piece with their own applications and services. After China and USA, India is the third largest smartphone market in the world and Google wont like to leave such a huge market in control of brands looking to use a custom forked Android OS as happening in China. As a result, Google would like to regain back a greater deal of control over its Android platform and more so ensure that the latest GMS cloud reaches masses, Android One is the answer, he writes in his blog.

Partnering with local kings is the right strategy, stresses Shah. Players such as Micromax, Karbonn and others have grown on the mobile phone

experience curve and have invested in brand, distribution and products to take it to the next level. This also means Google is working closely with these fast-growing vendors thus offering marketing muscle, increasing these partners brand equity and beefing up portfolio with newer Nexus style Android One devices to differentiate from hundred other long tail brands in the market right now.

Sundar Pichai, senior-vice-president, Android, Chrome & Apps at Google, says, If we look at how people are getting online and accessing information

today, increasingly its through a smartphone. While 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smartphone, the vast

majority of the worlds populationover five billion moredo not. Most people are only able to make simple voice calls, rather than connect with family through a live video chat. We want to bring these experiences to more people. Thats where

Android One comes in.

Addressing key barriers

According to Pichai, there are three big reasons why its hard for people in countries such as India, Indonesia or the Philippines to get their hands on a high-quality smartphone. First, is the hardware itself. Even entry-level smartphones still remain out of reach for many. Second, many people in these markets do not have access to the latest Android software and popular applications. Finally, even where 3G and 4G networks are available, not enough people have phones that can support data and the plans can be expensive.

Android One aims to help tackle these challenges, says Pichai. By working closely with phone and silicon chip makers to share reference designs and select components, we are making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable. We also added features that people in India will find particularly useful, like dual SIM cards, a replaceable battery and built-in FM radio.

The Android clearly has the momentum to take over the

competition.

This is just the beginning of the Android One journey. We expect to see even more high-quality, affordable devices with different screen sizes, colours, hardware configurations and customised software experiences", said Sundar Pichai, Senior-vice-president, Android, Chrome & Apps, Google