Google's Android One May Spark New Phone Wars

by CXOtoday News Desk    Sep 15, 2014


Google has launched the first family of its Android One phones in India as the tech major believes it will give existing and first time smartphone buyers, as well as new and existing mobile internet users, a high-end internet experience on smartphones, without having to burn a hole in their pockets. The move according to Google, is “part of a larger initiative to bring high-quality smartphones to as many people as possible,” and this is interesting to note in a price-sentitive market like India, where almost every smartphone player is looking to cut down on their prices to remain competitive. 

India is the second biggest mobile market in the world, but it hasn’t yet achieved strong smartphone penetration. It is undoutedly a major growth opportunity for big companies. Domestic handset makers like Micromax are also producing cheap Windows Phone devices, but with Android One, Google may have found a way to provide a consistent experience on the world’s most prevalent mobile ecosystem to a whole new audience, while at the same time, it may further intensify the smartphone war, believe experts.

The debut

The debut Android One smartphones - the Karbonn Sparkle V, Micromax Canvas A1, and Spice Dream Uno - will be available from their respective online retail partners from next week and at physical retail stores by early October. All three smartphones are priced at Rs. 6,399. The Karbonn Sparkle V is available through Snapdeal, the Micromax Canvas A1 exclusively through Amazon, and the Spice Dream Uno will be available exclusively at Flipkart.

The new initiative would kick off with downloadable YouTube videos in India. According to Google, the Android One phones, running the Android 4.4 KitKat, offers a high-quality experience. The handsets are equipped with superior design, improved battery life, enhanced security features, and smarter notifications, it said, apart from having similar features hardware specifications, and features such as dual SIM card slots, a FM radio tuner, and a microSD card slot for additional storage.

Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search, and Google Translate will come pre-loaded on the phones. Google also announced that Airtel is offering a promotion to reduce data costs for those who buy Android One phones. With an Airtel SIM card, Android One users will get free over-the-air (OTA) updates, and 200MB per month worth of app downloads from Google Play for the first six months - all without counting toward their mobile data plan. Additionally, Google has included a data compression feature on Android One’s Chrome browser. The search giant also announced that in the coming weeks the YouTube app will get offline video playback in India, allowing users to store videos via Wi-Fi on their Android device, and watch them later without data connectivity.

Sundar Pichai, Google Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome & Apps, said, “If we look at how people are getting online and accessing information today, increasingly it’s through a smartphone. While 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smartphone, the vast majority of the world’s population - over five billion more - do not. By working closely with phone and silicon chip makers to share reference designs and select components, we’re making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable. With Android One, we not only want to help people get online, we want to make sure that when they get there, they can tap into the wealth of information and knowledge the web holds for everyone.”

Pichai also announced an expanded set of hardware partners for the Android One initiative, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Xolo, as well as chipmaker Qualcomm. The company also announced that Android One phones will launch in Indonesia, the Philippines, and additional countries in South Asia by the end of the year.

Trouble for Samsung?

Google’s aggressive smartphone strategy for the Indian market could possibly spell trouble for Samsung which has until now dominated the Android market in India.

India is currently touted as the fastest-growing smartphone market in Asia-Pacific, growing at over 186% in the first two quarters of 2014. It is banking on its popular Android experience and lower price point which further appeals to a huge user base. After India, Android One phones are set to make their way to Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal before the end of the year. Google says phone manufacturers including HTC, Asus, Acer, Panasonic, and Lenovo are joining the program, alongside chip maker Qualcomm.

Neil Mawston, a UK-based analyst at Strategy Analytics notes, “A major threat for Samsung is that Android One will accelerate the race to the bottom on smartphone pricing, and he believes Android One now makes Google a foe for Samsung.”

Experts believe, Samsung which is already losing its sheen in India, China and certain emerging markets, now needs to figure out whether it’s going to stay in the market at the lower end or continue to focus on higher spectrum. For, how Samsung responds to Android One is set to have big ramifications for the emerging smartphone markets.