The budget smartphone market got shaken up again with the unveiling today of Google’s much-awaited Android One in India. In partnership with local phone-makers Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice, Google unveiled the Spice Android One Dream UNO Mi-498, Karbonn Sparkle V Red, and Micromax Canvas A1, with prices starting from as little as INR6,399 (US$105).
The Karbonn Sparkle V Red is available on Snapdeal, the Spice Dream Uno Mi-498 on Flipkart, and the Micromax Canvas A1 on the Amazon India site. Soon, these will be available at offline stores too.
India is the first country to get the Android One phones, which offer a relatively pure Android experience devoid of telco or OEM add-ons. Budget Android One smartphones will pop up in Indonesia, the Philippines, and other emerging Asian markets in the months to come. Google revealed today that it has signed up more phone-makers for upcoming launches, such as Asus, Xolo, HTC, and Lenovo.
The smartphone market in India appears clogged with a number of local and global players jostling for position. Samsung currently leads the smartphone race in India ahead of Micromax.
But there are at least five good reasons why the Android One looks like a game-changer in even such a crowded market. Here’s a look at what makes it stand out:
1. Redefining value for money
The price of the first set of Android One smartphones – even if it is a tad more than what was expected – will force leading players like Samsung and Motorola to rethink how much value can be delivered in a US$100 smartphone. The disruptive Chinese phone-maker Xiaomi has already raised the bar with the launch of the Redmi 1s at INR5,999 (US$99) a couple of weeks ago, but a similarly priced gadget from Google could have even more appeal. Here is what the Karbonn Sparkle V Red offers for $105 :
Android 4.4.4 KitKat
4.5-inch screen, 480 x 854 pixels resolution
1.3 GHz quad-core Mediatek processor
4GB storage expandable up to 32GB
5MP front camera, 2 MP rear camera
1700 mAH battery
G-Sensor, Proximity sensor, Light sensor, E-Compass, Gyro Sensor
All this for US$105. Though the Xiaomi Redmi 1S has better specs for a few dollars less, the company is unable to meet the huge demand in India. In its flash sale two weeks ago, 40,000 units of the Redmi 1S sold out in 4.2 seconds, but many prospective buyers were let down.
Google is partnering with Qualcomm for the Android One, so the next generation Android One smartphones will run on Qualcomm chipsets, which should prove more appealing to shoppers than the Mediatek ones.
2. Stock Android
The plethora of Android adaptations is a put-off even for very aggressively priced smartphones with great specs. A long delay for OS updates and concerns over security issues prompt many to opt for phones with stock Android – but Google itself, the original developer of Android, until now only provides it in the higher-end Nexus series. The other manufacturers’ Android-based skins – like Samsung’s Touchwiz, HTC’s Sense, Xiaomi’s MIUI – struggle to give users updates immediately, even when there’s a major Android security bug that needs fixing.
One reason for Motorola’s resurgence in popularity is that its no-frills Android operating system avoided all the clutter and crapware. Now Android One offers a cleaner experience direct from Google itself and at way less than half the price of a Nexus phone. That’s a big deal in markets like India which are 90 percent Android.
The three phones launched today come with stock Android, so users will get the latest OS update before the vast majority of Android users.
3. Partnerships with local players
In many of the Asian markets, there are strong local players with a wide distribution system. In India, the budget smartphone market is huge. People are racing to ditch their feature phones for smartphones. So the demand is likely to be huge for these smartly priced new devices.
Google’s partnership with Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice will ensure that the supply and reach will be more than that of its global rivals. There are also multiple distribution channels. Homegrown ecommerce sites Flipkart and Snapdeal will sell Android One smartphones from Spice and Karbonn, while the Indian branch of Amazon will sell the phones made by Micromax. This is smart, because Google’s primary interest is in a standardised platform for its services, which is the Android-based software, and having locally made hardware would hopefully avoid bottlenecks in manufacture, shipping, and distribution.
Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice already account for about 30 percent of India’s fast-growing smartphone market, according to IDC data for June.
4. Global software, local hardware
Google’s tie-up with the Indian trio comes with an important rider – that the local phone-makers can do only minimal tweaking of the Android operating system. So the only differentiation between the three Android One smartphones will be in the hardware.
Google is also localizing the features. Today’s three devices will let Indian users give voice commands, type messages, and use almost all major mobile applications in the country’s national language, Hindi. The phones will support seven other Indian languages as well.
Google also has tie-ups with various telecom operators, including Bharti Airtel and Reliance, to provide free bundled data plans on purchase of Android One phones. Google will also provide free data to download OS updates on Android One phones.
5. Global product launched first in India
The boom in the Indian smartphone market has attracted disruptive phone-makers from the West and East alike – but for a marquee product like Android One from Google to be launched first in India is rare. It shows where the US-based tech giant expects the smartphone action to be centered, as it gears up to bring the next one billion into the Android ecosystem.
As Sundar Pichai of Google put it to TV channel NDTV today: “This is one of the biggest launches we’ve done anywhere, not just India… For us, Android One was a journey to try and reach the next five billion people. And India accounts for a substantial portion of the share. Android One was conceived deeply with India in mind.”
India, the world’s fastest growing smartphone market, has become a battleground for low-cost smartphones, and consumers are gleefully lapping them up. One of the chief grouses Indian consumers have against companies like Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi is that their latest devices come late to India. For example, the iPhone 6 is scheduled to come to India on October 17, a month after the US launch. Xiaomi’s Mi4 is already out in China, but only the Mi3 and Redmi 1S are currently available in India. So Google choosing India as the launchpad for Android One comes as a breath of fresh air.
See: Why Xiaomi faces a catch-22 situation in India, and what it is doing about it