Google has officially launched the first set of smartphones through its Android One initiative that was introduced in Google I/O 2014 earlier this year. These phones are built in partnership with Indian handset makers like Micromax, Karbonn & Spice* and chipmaker Mediatek.
For the uninitiated, Android One is an initiative though which Google is looking to push low-cost Android smartphones to the market in a bid to reach out to the next billion users in emerging markets. Through this, Google will be creating a set of hardware reference platforms, identifying smartphone components 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 mentions that these phones will automatic Android updates for up to 2 years. More on that here.
At Android One unveiling, Sundar Pichai, Senior vice president, Android, Chrome & Apps at Google had claimed that this initiative will allow manufacturers to build sub-$100 smartphones, however the manufacturers seem to overshot this by a slight margin with the first set of devices starting at Rs 6,399 (around $105). We hope that the forthcoming devices will be priced in sub-$100 range, without much difference to the user experience.
Same devices, Different manufacturers
At launch, Google has launched three smartphones, one each from Micromax, Karbonn and Spice. What’s worth noting here though is the specifications of all the three phones are identical.
All of them have a 4.5-inch display powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, with 1GB RAM and 4GB storage which can be expanded to 32GB. It is a dual SIM phone and features a 5 megapixel camera on the back and a 2 megapixel camera on the front. Other features include FM radio and a 1700 mAH battery.
This indicates that the handset specifications are essentially commoditized, with no room for differentiation for handset makers. Hence, we are curious to see how Google plans to incentivize them to keep making Android One phones. There are already murmurs of handsets makers asking for more control in the program.
Micromax CEO Vineet Taneja had told BGR India that they have sought the ability to have direct discussions with ODMs (original design manufacturer) and decide which ODM should they want to source these devices from.
What’s interesting is that the pricing of each phone is slightly different and all the three companies have exclusively tied-up with a separate e-commerce company to offer this phone to consumers. This seems to have lead into a minor pricing war with Flipkart initially offering Spice’s Android phone at Rs 6,999 and dropping it almost instantly to Rs 6,299 while Snapdeal is offering Karbonn’s Android One phone at Rs 6,399 and Amazon India is offering Micromax’s Android One phone at Rs 6,499.
Google has however told AndroidOS.in that the online exclusivity is only for a short window and these Android One phones will hit physical stores before Diwali.
Airtel Tie-up: Google has tied-up with India’s largest telco Airtel to enable Airtel subscribers download the latest Android software updates (up to 100MB per month) for the first six months. This includes the upcoming Android L release. On top of this, Airtel will also apparently offer subscribers 200MB per month free data for app downloads and updates. This is however limited to the first prepaid active Airtel SIM inserted on these devices.
Newsstand & YouTube Offline: Google mentions that Android One users will get a free 12 month subscription to its newspaper & magazine service Newsstand that is expected to launch tomorrow with 30 Indian publications. It will also have access to YouTube’s upcoming offline service that will allow users to save some videos for offline watching.
New Android One Partners
Google mentions that it is adding nine new handset makers including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic and Xolo to the program. Chipmaker Qualcomm will also be joining the initiative which could make things bit more interesting for the forthcoming Android One handsets.
International Plans: After India, Google mentions that it plans to expand the Android one program to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of the year, with more countries to follow in 2015.
*Disclosure: Spice Digital is an advertiser with Medianama