India launch pad for Android Ones global ambitions

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 16 2014, 16:33pm hrs
Google Android One meetGoogle executives Tom Oliveri, Caesar Sen Gupta, Sunder Pichai and Rajan Anandan at the Andoid One event in New Delhi.
The Android ecosystem might already be a billion devices large, but Google wants to expand further and at a faster pace. This is where its new programme, Android One, fits in. No, it is not a new operating system, but an effort to bring the best hardware-software combo possible to the magical $100 price point. So the first set of Android One smartphones, launched in India and carrying Indian brands on the rear, will all be priced at Rs 6,399, aiming to woo the first-time smartphone buyer.

Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice-president for Android, Chrome and Apps, said the price point and the entire value proposition is good enough to get new customers on board. This gives us an opportunity to expand the market significantly We see a lot of opportunity going ahead, said Pichai, who is originally from Chennai.

Pichai said Android One tries to solve the problems people face with hardware, software and connectivity while buying affordable smartphones. The phones also come with a lot of local content including Google Translate with a Hindi-English-Hindi package, Google Now with a focus on cricket and even train reservations and, going ahead, free access to YouTube. Along with the 50% less data usage and free data packages offered by service providers likes Airtel, Google hopes these phones will be able to differentiate themselves from the scores of Android phones available at similar price points. Plus, this will offer a pure Android experience like Googles costlier Nexus devices and will be among the first to get the new Android L update when it is released.

The three phones launched on Monday from Micromax, Karbonn and Spice all have the same specifications though they sport slightly different designs. One common factor in the new devices is the MediaTek processor. Mohit Bhushan, vice-president and GM at MediaTek, said the affordable smartphones so far were devoid of a full mobile experience and that is where Android One stands out. This will trigger more aggressive growth in the smartphone segment. This is just the start of a journey, you will see more devices in the new future with different display sizes and connectivity options under the Android One umbrella, he added.

The phones will sell only online initially with each manufacturer deciding to pick an e-tailer from among Flipkart, Amazon and SnapDeal. Later, the manufacturers are expected to use their offline might to make the phones available across India. But it remains to be seen if this message will trickle down to the masses for whom the phone is intended. Vishal Tripathi, principal research analyst with Gartner, called it a noble initiative that will make life easier for Google by reducing the number of Android versions in the market. But I dont see it being disruptive in the market. Not to take away from the Indian manufacturers, the impact would have been much more had Google tied up with a big name like Samsung, he added. Incidentally, Google has announced that it will be entering more markets in South Asia as well as Indonesia and Philippines with bigger names like Acer, Asus and Lenovo, among others.

Shashin Devsare, executive director at Karbonn Mobiles, said customers will get to use the latest version of Android on these phones as soon as they are released along with premium hardware and customised apps.

But the new phones will end up competing with the affordable Android Kitkat devices launched around Rs 7,000 by companies like Motorola as well as Indian manufacturers like Karbonn. These phones have been selling like hot cakes in the past couple of months, despite the limited supplies. But Pichai is not concerned and said Android One will only give users more choice. It is good for him and Google that the rivals are also Android phones, in case Android One fails to impress India.