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Google’s Android One will woo first-time smartphone users

It is a good for Google that Android One's rivals are also Android phones, in case it fails to impress India.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2014 1:32:39 pm
Sundar Pichai sees a big opportunity for Android One phones in India. (Source: Nandagopal Rajan) Sundar Pichai sees a big opportunity for Android One phones in India. (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)

The Android ecosystem might already be a billion devices large, but Google wants to expand it more 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 buyers.

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. It will also solve the obstacle of language by including Google Translate with a Hindi-English-Hindi package. There will also be Google Now with a focus on cricket and even train reservations and going ahead free access to YouTube.

Along with the 50 per cent less data usage and free data packages offered by service providers likes Airtel, Google hopes these phones will be able to differentiate itself from the scores of Android phones available at similar price points. Anand Chandrasekaran, Chief Product Officer, Bharti Airtel said customers would be able to enjoy 100 MB of data per month for six months for software updates and 200 MB per month for a similar period for app downloads and updates on the “first prepaid active Airtel SIM inserted in the Android One device”. Plus, this will offer a pure Android experience like Google’s costlier Nexus devices and will be among the first to get the new Android L update when it is released for consumers.

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The three phones launched today 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, VP 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 etailer 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 don’t 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.

Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps (Source: Nandagopal Rajan) Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)

However, Shashin Devsare, executive director, Karbonn Mobiles listed first access to the latest version of Android and software upgrades along with the “premium hardware and customized apps at disruptive prices” as a good enough reason for Indian buyers to be interested.

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. Sanjay Kumar Kalirona, business head for mobile at Intex, which is among the new Android One partners announced today, said there will be a wide portfolio of devices in the near future and their phones will also hit the market soon.

The new phones will end up competing with the affordable Android Kitkat devices launched by companies like Motorola as well as Indian and Chinese manufacturers at around Rs 7,000. 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 a good for him and Google that the rivals are also Android phones, in case Android One fails to impress India.



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