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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Google: ‘Want to bridge gap on affordability and user experience for Android users in India’

Ram Papatla, general manager and India lead for Android, said Google is building this team primarily to bridge the gap between feature and smartphone users.

Written by Shruti Dhapola | Chandigarh |
Updated: November 18, 2021 7:08:39 pm
Google for India, Google Android team, Google Android India team, Google Android India, Google JioPhone Next, Google Android Team in IndiaGoogle's Ram Papatla, who is the GM and lead for Android in India. (Screenshot from the Google for India event)

Google now has a dedicated team for Android in India looking at how it can bridge the gap around device affordability even as it creates new experiences tailored for audiences in the country.

Ram Papatla, general manager and India lead for Android, said Google is building this team primarily to bridge the gap between feature and smartphone users. And that’s a problem Google has been trying to solve for many years now with Android One — introduced back in 2014 — and the Android Go editions that came after it.

Recently, Google partnered with Reliance Jio to introduce the JioPhone Next running Pragati OS, an optimised version of Android designed specifically for the device. Papatla said Google’s future partnerships will include OEMs, telecom carriers, and also developers without specifying if there were any on the anvil.

Elaborating on why Google is focusing more on Android for India, he stated the pandemic has further accelerated the demand for smartphones in the country. “We are going to think deeply about the experience of first-time users coming on board for smartphones. Whether it’s their experience in retail or moving their contacts from a feature phone to a smartphone — which is a very painful process — or how they navigate on the device and what their first seven days look like,” he explained.

The Android team is hoping to also gain more insights into what users need in the market, and then build products or features that cater to those needs. Papatla also stressed that voice remains a key user behaviour in India when navigating a phone.

Google for India, Google Android team, Google Android India team, Google Android India, Google JioPhone Next, Google Android Team in India Reliance JioPhone Next, which is built in partnership with Google is seen in this photo. (Image source: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

“We think we can actually leapfrog the country where we become more and more native in Indian languages with voice as the primary input,” he said. This stress on voice is also seen in the JioPhone Next, which has a Read Aloud and Translate feature, where the phone can translate any text written on a screen into the user’s native language. The phone will also read it aloud to them in their language, thus solving a key accessibility barrier for many smartphone users.

Asked whether affordability would mean a compromise on specifications and quality — a criticism that has been leveled at the JioPhone Next — Papatla said they realise the smartphone is an aspirational device and that quality and reliability would matter for users. “We want to make sure the device is fine six, seven months down the line. We want to actually start looking at the current devices in the market and what we can do to sort of improve the ecosystem,” he said, adding that there were some key areas where Google would not compromise such as quality, security, etc.

Calling this a complex, technical challenge, he said Google will need to include local partnerships as it will collectively build products for the market. The team itself though will be based in London and Bengaluru. Google did not reveal just how many people are working on this Android for the India team.

Papatla clarified that if a feature was exclusive to an OEM, then it would remain so. However, if a feature appeals to the general Android operating system, then it would be perhaps made available more broadly. “It’s possible that we can set up the infrastructure in such a way that India becomes a leading market to validate something. We certainly want to make sure that we go through the validation phase because what may work in India may not work elsewhere,” he explained.

He also stressed that the company was thinking about computing power for India as a whole, and not necessarily only smartphones when it came to devices. On being asked if Google planned to distribute PragatiOS to other developers, he said it was too early for the same.

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