Google debuts first low-cost Android One phones in India

The India launch was the first worldwide for the low-cost phones built around Google's reference design

Three Indian vendors have launched smartphones based on a Google reference design starting at 6399 Indian rupees (US$105) without operator subsidy, in a bid to grab a share of a growing but competitive segment of the country's smartphone market.

Google has recruited a number of partners for its Android One low-cost phone project, including phone manufacturers Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic and Xolo, and chipmaker Qualcomm, it said in a blog post Monday.

The new smartphones have a 4.5-inch, 854x480-pixel display, a Cortex A7 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage expandable to 32GB, besides 2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear facing cameras, dual SIM card slots, an FM radio and a 1700 mAh rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. The phones run Android 4.4 (KitKat) and will get the next version when it is released.

In line with a new trend in mobile phone retailing in India, Karbonn Mobiles, Micromax and Spice Retail each signed up an online retailer to exclusively retail their Android One phones. Retailer Flipkart, for example, said it had tied with Spice to offer the phone. Selling online a low-cost product for the masses may not be the best strategy, as most of the masses are not yet Internet savvy, according to analysts.

The importance Google attaches to the India launch of the devices, the first worldwide, was underscored by the presence at the event of Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps. Pichai said in June that the company aims to cut the prices of Android smartphones to under $100 and is providing a reference design so that handset makers can reach that price.

The opportunity in India is that most of the demand in smartphones is coming from the low end of the market. Sub-$200 smartphones increased their share to 81 percent of the 18.4 million smartphones shipped in India in the second quarter of 2014, IDC said in August. Feature phones accounted for 71 percent of the 63.21 million units mobile phone market, and smartphone vendors are hoping to win them over.

Pichai told TV news channel NDTV that the launch in India will be a "template" for similar projects in other parts of the world. The Android One program will be expanded to Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries in South Asia by the end of this year, with more countries planned next year. Google also expects the number of devices to increase as more partners come on board, he said. The company is also adding support for more local languages in the next AndroidL update.

The Google phone is not likely to be a game changer, said Vishal Tripathi, principal research analyst at Gartner. Its price is attractive and the availability of Google apps and a local language interface will attract users, but in the long term a lot will depend on the user experience, which will include hardware, software and their integration, Tripathi added.

Vying for the sub-$200 market are a number of vendors, including Xiaomi of China. In August, one of Mozilla's two Indian partners, Intex Technologies, started selling a smartphone running the Firefox operating system for 2,000 rupees.

To get feature phone users to migrate to smartphones, Google will have to tie with operators to offer low-cost data plans at reasonable speeds, Tripathi said ahead of the event. Otherwise, a number of buyers of the Android One phones will start using them as feature phones. This is not a Facebook market and would also like to have applications and content in local languages, he added.

At the event, Google said it had tied with Bharti Airtel to offer free updates and downloads of favorite apps for six months. YouTube will also be available offline soon, and people can download a movie and view later, Pichai said.

For Google, the launch of the low-cost phones based on its reference designs will help it drive a standard configuration across the key Indian vendors. Android One will help the company counter fragmentation of the operating system, give it greater control over when software is updated, and even higher control of the hardware, something it could not have done if it partnered with larger players, Tripathi said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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