Updated: September 21, 2014 11:02:23 am
India is now the world’s third largest Internet market and “on a bullet train to become the second”. But even when we become the second with around 300 million Internet users, India would still have over 75 per cent of the population that has no access to this so-called information superhighway. It is this chunk of population that will form the “next billion” which companies like Nokia, and now Google, has been talking about. And it is this next billion that Google thinks will line up to buy and good smartphone that is also affordable.
With its Android One programme, Google hopes to be able to give users the best hardware-software combo at a very reasonable price of $100 to start with. At the moment it has done this with three devices from Indian smartphone makers, all with the same specifications and all priced around Rs 6,400. Soon, it will try and hit this sweet spot across various price points above and below $100, offering the best experience at that range. It will also have more partners on board as it spreads the Android One experiment to other countries in Asia and then the rest of the world.
But things are not that easy. The market has changed since Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps, announced Android One earlier this year. Now you have Firefox’s ultra-low cost smartphones priced at just around $35, or Rs 2,000 in India. There are a bunch of Android, or Android-based phones, with price tags similar to Android One, but sporting slightly better specifications. The market is really crowded at the bottom and Google’s struggle will be to make people understand the value proposition it is offering.
That would be access to the pure Android experience, now available only on Nexus devices that are priced much higher. This also means first access to new Android updates and a much more controlled environment than the bloatware-filled ecosystem that it is now. Plus, there is the added advantage of free data offerings that would come bundled with the phone in a bid to get new users hooked to the potential of smartphones and having Internet literally at their fingertips. To break the language barrier, the second largest obstacle to smartphone adoption after price, there are also features like Google Translate which now has Hindi-English-Hindi packs and voice search which now recognises the national language. Add to this Google’s promise to make YouTube available offline on these phones in the coming months and users might just see good value in opting for one of these devices.
The first devices have all been powered by chipmaker MediaTek, while Qualcomm is expected to enter the fray in the second wave. This also means, Android One is not always going to be a pure budget play and there will be devices tending towards the mid range, maybe even higher. What Google is trying to achieve here is control over the fragmentation that has gripped the Android ecosystem. Just about 21 per cent of Android devices are running the latest KitKat OS, while on iOS over 90 per cent are on the iOS 7. That is a scary picture for Google which in a suggests a free-for-all in the Android market. With Android One Google has an opportunity to rectify that, though gradually. Now, manufacturers have a template to pick and choose the hardware they need out of a menu provided by Google. That should make more of them opt for Android than doing their own thing with the OS.
There is also a huge business opportunity for Google in just expanding the number of Internet users globally, after all it is the largest digital advertising company in world. More Internet users means a large number of eyeballs to show ads to and make money. But in the process it seems destined to pull out millions of people from digital obscurity. While the first phones might not be game changing the pure sense of the term, the path that the Internet giant has chosen in this smartphone era could well end up being one. It won’t be long when Android One devices start becoming available at a fraction of its present $100 price tag and that is when Google would have achieved its goal.
Same price, same specs
Micromax Canvas A1: Rs 6,499
Karbonn Sparkle V: Rs 6,399
Spice Dream Uno: Rs 6,399
Screen: 4.5-inch (854x480p, 218ppi) capacitive touch screen
Size: 134mm height, 68mm width, 9.3mm depth and 140g weight.
Cameras: 2MP front and 5MP rear
Video: 30fps 1080p recording
Memory: 4GB (about 2.5GB is used up by software) with 32GB expandable slot
CPU: Cortex A7 1.3 GHz quad core MediaTek processor
GPU: ARM Mali-400MP2 RAM: 1GB
Connectivity: Wifi 802.11 b/g/n Battery: 1700 mAh
Networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) UMTS/HSPA+ up to 21 MBPS (850, 2100 MHz)
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