Android One arrives: Google's India focus outshines smartphone rivals Apple, Samsung


It’s a day after Google launched Android One internationally, but the focus of the event was squarely in India. Android One is supposed to be a global initiative but at the moment it has an Indian tinge that shows Google is focussing on the Indian market more than ever, and possibly more than anyone else.

 

For all its various services and kooky projects, the past few years have seen tremendous focus on mobile from Google. It makes sense seeing as mobile connectivity is the fastest growing segment when it comes to Internet and Google is all about the Internet. So we saw Android growing with new hardware partners on board and features that made it more accessible. Android rules the smartphone market today, running on over 80 percent of devices shipped last year.

 

As smartphones grew around the world, India and China emerged as the two fastest growing markets. But China is a wasteland as far as Android is concerned as many vendors eschewed Google Play services to align themselves with third-party services along with an open source Android base. This left Google out of the revenue pie in China.

 

To not see the same fate in India, Android One is here. Android One is how Google wants us to use Android, a version where its services are front and centre, and software updates will flow for up to two years. More crucially Google controls the experience to a great extent, meaning users should have few complaints about performance even though the price would suggest they would do.

 

With Android One, Google is focussing on India more than any other smartphone player. Despite making noises about India being an important market, Google’s rivals such as Apple and Samsung have preferred to not put a great deal of resources into the India effort.

 

Apple acknowledged that India was a key market for iPhone and iPad growth, but has done little outside the buyback schemes and exchange offers for Indian consumers. Samsung has been guilty of constantly churning out mediocre re-iterations of existing phones and has been shown to be completely devoid of any understanding of the Indian market, which is moving to better value smartphones in the mid-range segment. Samsung has also not been able make its mid-range portfolio attractive in the same way as Micromax, Motorola or even Xiaomi. If anything, Samsung is busy promoting its own ecosystem, which has direct rivals to some apps in the Google Play platform.

 

Meanwhile, Google recognised the strategy to make sure India remained in the favourable Android camp. It’s hoping to emulate iPhone-like performance with Android One at basement prices, but also striking against Samsung’s focus on its home-grown apps. It’s added key features to sweep the Indian market such as free subscription in Google Play NewsStand; free data usage for app downloads, offline YouTube support in a video-crazy market and regional language support to bolster the search user base through vernacular languages.

 

In his interviews following the launch, Google VP Sundar Pichai maintained that India is a crucial market for Google as it represents a swathe of people who are not connected or at least not connected to the main stem of the Internet.

Android One is the first step and Pichai said we should expect more India-specific developments from the company. Google has not just talked about how India is an important market, it’s shown it in a very precise manner and the first wave of Android One devices is only the beginning. More partners and better hardware is coming. At the moment, the three phones are not meant to please everyone. But the specific audience Google is targeting (largely first-time buyers) will scarcely get a better smartphone experience elsewhere.


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