The Economic Times: June, 2014
New Delhi: Google has tied up Indian handset-makers Micromax, Karbonn and Spice to develop sub-$100 (Rs 6,000) smartphones, some of which will hit the market as early as in September.
The initiative — announced by Google senior vice-president Sundar Pichai at the Internet giant's annual developer conference in San Francisco late on Wednesday — will help propel the Indian brands' image worldwide and intensify competition in the country's entry-level smartphone market, experts said.
Under the programme called Android One initiative, Indian handset makers will get hardware reference models to create high-quality phones at low costs. These devices may run on standardised version of Android which will allow faster updates.
The phones will be first launched in India, before going global. "We are going to be launching it around the world, but will launch in India first in the fall of this year," said Pichai, who heads Android, Chrome and applications.
He also said Google was working with Indian carriers to offer affordable data packs to go with the smartphone, but did not elaborate, while showcasing a Micromax device that had dual SIM slots, a 4.5-inch screen, expandable memory and FM radio.
Pradeep Jain, managing director at Karbonn Mobiles, said, "The device(s) will be great for customers who will get more value."
While Micromax did not reply to ETqueries as of press time, Spice Retail chairman Dilip Modi said more details about Android One initiative will be revealed closer to the time of launch.
An industry insider said the first set of devices is likely to start appearing in the market from September. Trade insiders also said the devices could be co-branded since Google may not get back into the hardware business after having sold off Motorola, and no additional follow ups on Nexus.
Vishal Tripathi, principal analyst at Gartner, who tracks the handset and tablet markets, said the development will make low-end phone market, where Nokia and Samsung already operate, more competitive.
"From the customer stand point, the overall user experience will become better as with standard Google platform meaning updates received more quickly," he said. Analysts said the Android One initiative will also bolster Google's already large market presence, albeit on the operating system side, in the country and help the firm spread the reach of Internet to areas that have little access.
"By our estimates, over 500 million mobile device users are using non-smartphone devices in India. So, the addressable market for smartphones is significant compared to other countries," said Jayanth Kolla, co-founder and partner at telecom research firm Convergence Catalyst. More access to unchartered markets also increases Google's chances to spread its online advertising platform.
India has become a focus market for top operating system makers. Less than a fortnight ago, Mozilla announced the launch of ultra-low cost devices priced $25, or Rs 1,500, with Indian partners Spice and Intex.
India's smartphone market nearly tripled in the first quarter of this calendar with 17.59 million devices shipped compared to 6.14 million during the same period in 2013, according to data from market tracker IDC.
The sharp growth is expected to continue with low-cost devices driving penetration. "Scope for smartphones sales will be highest in India for the next few years," Convergence Catalyst's Kolla said. "It makes sense for any player to have a strong strategy for the India in the smartphone space," he said.