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Business News/ Tech-news / News/  Google launches Android One phones with Micromax, Karbonn, Spice
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Google launches Android One phones with Micromax, Karbonn, Spice

Priced at `6,399 each, the three Android One smartphones are Karbonn Sparkle V, Micromax Canvas A1, and Spice Dream UNO

Google launched the Android One phones in India as part of a larger initiative to bring high-quality smartphones at affordable prices, with support for local languages. Photo: Hemant Mishra/MintPremium
Google launched the Android One phones in India as part of a larger initiative to bring high-quality smartphones at affordable prices, with support for local languages. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

New Delhi: Sundar Pichai’s designation reads senior vice-president at Google Inc.—a position from which he oversees the Android operating system, the Chrome browser and apps. A more appropriate title may be ambassador-in-chief, Android.

Since taking over from Android founder Andy Rubinto run the unit, he has made it the centrepiece of Google’s strategy for mobile phones, and Monday’s India launch of Android One—a coming together of software, hardware and developers—may well be a tipping point for a mobile platform that already dominates the world.

Even in the US, Android had a 51.5% market share for the three months ended July, according to online data analytics firm comScore. AppleInc.’s iOS had a share of 42.4% in the same period.

Globally, Android’s numbers are even more dominant: 84.6% of all phones shipped in the three months ended June used the Android operating system, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics (iOS’ share was 11.9%).

Pichai, 42, a Chennai-born engineer who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, likens Android, the open-source platform that requires Google to work with a multiplicity of partners (unlike, say, Apple, which is “vertically integrated" as Pichai puts it, which means it controls the entire ecosystem, including and especially the hardware and software).

“Android One is our initiative to bring high-quality smartphones to many new markets like India, which have new potential for new smartphone users. We are very excited because with Android One, we are going a step forward than Android, and we are providing a reference platform, and a menu of choice for our OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners to choose various tested and pre-qualified component so that it’s easier to build a phone. And with that, they get the peace of mind of software backed by Google, with security and updates," said Pichai.

On Monday, among other things (such as the launch of offline Youtube, which will come pre-loaded on Android phones), Pichai announced the launch of three Android One phones by Google’s’ partners MicromaxInformatics Ltd, Spice Mobiles, a part of Spice Retail Ltd, and Karbonn Mobiles India Pvt. Ltd.

Priced at 6,399 each, the phones mark a significant step in Google’s efforts to consolidate Android—being open source, multiple versions exist and will continue to exist—and the Mountain View, California-based search giant sees it as an important first step in creating a supply chain of sort-of accredited hardware and component partners, so much so that phone makers can pick the software and the hardware features they want for their phones almost off a menu.

Pichai is non-committal on whether Google will follow the same approach for wearables (wearable technology such as watches) and the Internet of things (iOT), the two next-big-things in technology—although he admits the potential of both are significant (and caveats that both are still very much in their infancy even in terms of standards). He waves the watch he is sporting, a wearable that can be charged from phones, but says it is a prototype and that he can’t share information about it.

Pichai’s diplomacy, which must have stood in him good stead while managing partners, many of them large phone makers like Samsung ElectronicsCo. Ltd, is on display when he parries a question on rumours of him being sounded out for the top spot in MicrosoftCorp.with a statement on how exciting it is to work for Google.

“You can look at Android One as an a la carte menu of choices. You can pick what you want. Over time, you will have a qualified choice of vendors...I don’t recall any event in the history of computing where there has been this big an event, at this scale, with so many devices and partners. There are about 1.7 billion personal computers (PCs—desktops and laptops) after almost 40 years. Android (on about 1.2 billion devices) will get there in less than a decade," said Pichai.

The OEMs appear to be happy with the Google deal.

Shashin Devsare, executive director of KarbonnMobiles, said his company is offering a “15-month warranty with the devices because we feel that Android One will bring into the fold, a much larger set of upgraders".

However, Devsare said he would still wait before launching wearables, especially “since the marriage of wearables with the device one is using has to be very robust".

According to Dilip Modi, chairman of Spice Mobility Ltd, the company has a tie-up with e-commerce company Flipkart.com“for the exclusive launch of our flagship product Dream UNO". Consumers, he added, would also get the advantage of Spice Dream Care, with a 30-day device replacement guarantee and Spice Dream Cloud with 10GB additional storage free on the cloud.

Analysts think similarly.

Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research firm Convergence Catalyst, believes that with the current arrangement with OEMs, “Google will become an enabler in helping manufacturers build good quality, low-cost smartphones", especially since Google is taking responsibility for the quality of the phones by pre-testing the software.

According to Sanchit Gogia, chief analyst and chief executive of Greyhound Research, Google Android One is going to be a “game-changer" in India.

“Their goal is to reach next 5 billion people in emerging markets and a billion in India. This gives them an edge as compared with Microsoft, Apple and BlackBerryLtd." He added that “support for seven regional languages...will not only help consumers use vernacular, but also likely to help promote apps in regional languages".

Pointing out that in India, only less than 10% of the population have access to smartphones, with a price lower than $100, he qualified that price alone does not drive demand.

Gogia believes Google can expect competition from other low-cost phones but “these are far from reaching critical volumes". Firefox, in partnership with Spice and Intex, has launched two new smartphones, priced below 2,300, aimed at those looking to upgrade from feature phones to smartphones.

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Published: 15 Sep 2014, 12:09 PM IST
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