Android One low-cost smartphones launch in India
Phones start at $116, thanks to Google's shared designs, components, software
Want to buy a new smartphone for under $120? Google's new Android One smartphones are its latest effort to reach untapped markets in the developing world.
Google formally introduced its first "family" of Android One smartphones Monday in India, in partnership with three Indian phone manufacturers. The Karbonn Android One Sparkle V is now on sale for 6499 rupees ($116) and the Spice Android One Dream Uno for 7499 rupees ($135). As of Monday afternoon, the Micromax Android One Canvas A1, being sold through Amazon, was sold out.
On the official Google blog, Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Android, Chrome and Apps, noted that five billion people around the world —"the vast majority" — do not have a smartphone, and therefore can't do things like make video calls, use mapping apps and search the web with their phone.
"We want to bring these experiences to more people," he added.
Bringing people those experiences — and the ads that come with them — is how Google makes its money.
The company said it plans to expand the Android One program to Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and South Asia by the end of the year and to additional countries in 2015.
According to business consulting giant Deloitte, the number of smartphone users in India alone is expected to surpass 104 million in 2014, nearly doubling the 51 million in 2013.
The newly released phones run the latest version of Google's Android software, Kit Kat, and will be automatically updated for free to the next version, Android L, this year.
Pichai wrote that Google is working closely with phone manufacturers and phone chip makers to share designs and components in order to make devices that are more affordable.
"When [handset companies] look to make a phone, they will get a menu. They can put together a device in a much quicker fashion, knowing we've already tested the software," Pichai told Reuters.
Reuters's Nivdeita Bhattacharjee and Tommy Wilkes noted that many cheap smartphones in India run "different and somewhat customized" versions of Android that make the phones prone to glitches and are beyond Google's control.
Google is among many companies jostling for a piece of the emerging smartphone market in the developing world, and the e-commerce opportunities that come with it. BlackBerry launched its Z3 handset, which cost just over $200, in Indonesia in May and Firefox launched the $39 Intex Cloud FX smartphone in India, in August. Like Google, Firefox is focusing on the mobile software and working with smartphone manufacturers around the world, including Alacatel, LG, Huawei and ZTE.
Compared to the Cloud FX, the new Android One devices are more powerful and have significantly better screens and cameras. They include a 1.3 GHz quad core processor, a 5 MP primary camera, 4GB of memory that is expandable to 32GB, and the ability to take two different SIM cards, allowing users to switch between two different carriers or plans.
Their displays have a resolution of 480 by 854 pixels, a little bit lower than that of the iPhone 4, which had a screen resolution of 640 x 960, but considerably better than the 320 x 480 resolution of the Cloud FX.
Google has partnered with Indian wireless carrier Airtel to offer 200MB of downloads from its Google Play app store that do not count toward customers' mobile data usage.
Google said it has also partnered with other phone manufacturers, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Xolo, as well as chip manufacturer Qualcomm.
The company has a number of other initiatives aimed at bringing better internet access to the developing world. It's an investor in O3b Networks Ltd., which will provide fibre-speed satellite internet to Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. It has also run tests on internet-beaming balloons.