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Micromax, Karbonn & Spice to launch sub-$100 smartphones through Android One

Android One

In a bid to reach out to the next billion users in emerging markets with a special focus on India, Google has introduced a new initiative called Android One at Google I/O 2014, its ongoing annual developer conference at Moscone Center, San Francisco. (Our entire coverage of Google I/O 2014 here)

Through this initiative, Google is looking to enable manufacturers build sub-$100 smartphones in emerging markets more easily and quickly. Sundar Pichai, Senior vice president, Android, Chrome & Apps at Google told that OEMs in each country have to “re-invent the wheel and in the fast-paced mobile industry, they have to build a new smartphone within 9 months.”

Pichai said they are working on creating a set of hardware reference platforms, identifying components which can go into a “high-quality next-gen affordable smartphone” and pre-qualifying vendors for those parts so that they can offer OEMs with turnkey solutions to build smartphones.

In terms of software, all the phones will feature stock Android with regular software updates, just like Nexus and Google Play edition devices. Google will also allow OEMs and carriers to automatically install “locally relevant” apps through Google Play, however Pichai notes that users will have full controls over these apps. Google is also apparently working with carriers in these markets to bundle low-cost data plans with these phones.

Partners: Pichai said the program will start from India later this fall (around September or October) and the company has initially partnered with Indian OEMs like Micromax, Karbonn and Spice* for this initiative. While there isn’t much information on the first set of Android One smartphones, Pichai did mention a sub-$100 Micromax smartphone with 4.5-inch screen, dual SIM and SD card support which will probably be among the first lot of smartphones coming from this initiative.

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Implications: If executed well, this program could significantly change the existing handset market in India for good. While we do have low-cost smartphones in the market, these phones typically are lower-specced, hence providing users with a sub-par experience.

For a decent experience, one had to still opt for higher priced smartphones priced anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. Over the past few months, Motorola had however started partially addressing this problem with aggressively priced Moto G and Moto E, which led to competing OEMs like Micromax, Lava and Karbonn launch similar low-cost offerings.

However following this initiative, one could expect decent entry-level smartphones (hopefully Moto E-like devices) at prices below Rs 5,000, which could significantly increase the smartphone penetration in the country. As per the latest IDC report, the smartphone penetration in India was only 10% in Q1 2014, with

Another major problem in these phones were the lack of software updates, which meant users couldn’t access any of the new Android features that Google released with each version of the operating system. Google seems to be addressing that problem by launching a Nexus-like program for entry-level smartphones.

From an OEM perspective, this will enable Indian players like Micromax and Karbonn to compete with global players like Samsung by launching competitive smartphones at lower prices.

*Disclosure: Spice Digital is an advertiser with Medianama

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