Android One Shows India Is Biggest Market For Google

by Sohini Bagchi    Sep 17, 2014

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India is a price-sensitive market and this is a decisive factor for smartphone sales in the country. Those players, who abide by this rule, continue to grow in the country. Google’s Android One phones, recently launched in India, in partnership with Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, are based on this premise, as it aims to win customers in the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market with low prices and better quality software.

While Google believes it is “part of a larger initiative to bring high-quality smartphones to as many people as possible,” it clearly had India in focus when developing these sub-$100 phones and choosing the country as the ‘first’ for the launch, with a focus on budget-phones – a strategy which makes it stand out from Apple that have always focused on launching smartphones in the premium categories.

The India factor

In an interview with TOI, Sundar Pichai, senior VP at Google, where he oversees Android, Chrome and Google App and currently touted as “the most powerful man in mobile,” tipped off that India is the biggest market for Google’s budget phones.

“In Android, we’re roughly tripling our user base every year. In core products and services like search, maps, Chrome, YouTube etc India is one of our strongest markets. As far as revenue is concerned, we’ve no doubt there’s huge potential. We wouldn’t be doing things like Android One if we didn’t think so. India is a fast-changing market and we can’t afford to take it for granted. We’ll have to evolve with it,” he said on the market potential in the country.

Despite being one of the largest markets of smartphones, India has not been a first preference of global players until recently. For example, other than Nexus 5, Google also never unveiled its Nexus devices officially in India. But all that is changing now. Experts believe that in India, where almost every smartphone player is looking to cut down on their price to woo customers, Android One smartphones are really a boon. Chipmaker MediaTek predicts as many as 2 million handsets to be sold this year alone in the country.

The Taiwan-headquartered company has partnered with US-based tech giant Google on Android One, an initiative to provide a family of high-quality yet affordable Android devices for consumers in emerging markets like India. “We expect 1.5-2 million Android One handsets to be sold this year in India,” Mohit Bhushan - VP, Business development, MediTek told PTI when asked about the expectations on the sale of the handsets.

Read: Google Set To Plunge Into India’s Booming Smartphone Market

Sales are likely to go up in the coming months, with analysts predicting that festive seasons will inevitably see an uptick in handset sales and hence the next few months are crucial with heated competition, especially in the budget segment.

Cautious optimism

Despite this optimistic projection, Android One phones may have to face some challenges. The Chinese brands like Oppo, Xiaomi and Gionee have been literally invading India with their smartphones and while most of these phones are truly amazing and challenge the best of flagships in the market, they also come at really cheap prices.

However, Google said that while many affordable smartphones in India and other emerging markets already offer customized versions of the Android OS, in case of Android One, the eventual software upgrades on the Android One phones would come directly from Google. This would give Google better control of the operating system and ensure users get a consistent service.

“In the short term, there can be a disruption. But, this will eventually lead to handset makers not part of Android One to invest on innovating the mobile experience,” Bhushan said on the impact of these handsets.

He believes companies will eventually realize that Android One will give users an unmatched device experience at affordable prices and for them to match it, they will have to follow suit.

Microsoft is reportedly reshaping its handset strategy as Google introduces its Android One phones. The tech major is looking to aggressively cut prices of smartphones, apart from launching its ‘First’ category of feature phones priced under $40 (Rs 2,400) to target the billion first-time buyers in emerging countries, especially in India.

“We’re just beginning a refresh of the entire portfolio,” Chris Weber, vice president of mobile device sales at Microsoft, told ET. “We aim to push the price point of Windows phones significantly lower - we certainly see that happening on the Android ecosystem - without impacting quality and experience.”

Others like Firefox have introduced smartphones for as little as Rs 1,999, again with Indian handset partners.

This explains why Google Android One may spur a revolution in the Indian smartphone market. It’s sustainability is always a question though, like with any other technology – and that’s something only time can decide!