A Personal Perspective of Android and India
If you are a follower of Android-related news, you may have noticed a rather stark increase in the attention of the big Android players towards the Asian market, specifically India and China. China is being predominant with its manufacturing efforts which range from mobile components like SoCs and displays, all the way to phones which can compete against flagships from the rest of the world. India, on the other hand, aims to be the next big market of the world, as it prepares for an age of digital enrichment.
According to reports, India is poised to become the world’s second largest smartphone market by 2017, overtaking the US and being second place to China. As the report states:
India’s growth is being driven by low smartphone penetration, expanding retail availability of devices, wealthier middle-class consumers, and aggressive promotions from local smartphone brands like Micromax.
As more and more OEM’s realize the potential of growth in a vastly untapped market like India, it is only a matter of time until India becomes an entity truly worth reckoning for every player in the mobile world.
But has it always been this way?
If you take a look back down memory lane, the picture hasn’t always been the same. India was not one to demand higher priority from OEMs, as it often was a place where a lot of devices came much later after their release, along with a very inflated price tag courtesy of high import duties. For instance, as per eximguru.com’s duty calculator, a “Telephone for cellular networks or for other wireless networks” would have attracted a rather whooping duty of 15.19% back in 2010, while the same would attract a duty of 1.05% now in 2015. Thankfully, we are moving towards a brighter future.
Personally speaking, I purchased my own smartphone back in April 2011. As a student prepped up to join highschool, purchasing a smartphone was one of the bigger monetary decisions that I was to take. The typical Indian mentality was very much stuck with me, as whatever I had to purchase next should always be able to survive for a good few years.
There were a few problems with this, though:
- The Android spec race was just about to begin with the Galaxy S2 just being announced in Feb 2011. This meant that, at the time of purchase, the Indian market was still predominantly Nokia, Samsung and even Blackberry with a healthy mix of smartphones and feature phones. Choosing an Android at that time was a risky move, since the OS was still trying to learn how to walk.
- As a non-earner, the budget constraints on a purchase were very tight. Trying to fit in a “smartphone” in a Rs. 10,000 ($150) budget meant a choice between a Nokia C5, Nokia E73 or a Blackberry Curve, all of which were not future-proof to the point where they could last for more than a year, a fact which was not lost to me. The flagship Galaxy S along with the Bada OS flagship Wave, were both priced at upwards of Rs. 40,000 ($600), way beyond my reach.
Since I viewed my spending as an investment rather than a casual purchase, I started to do my own research prior to the big day. Keeping in mind how “revolutionary” the Galaxy S2 felt in the teasers, along with all the awe Android games generated (the ones which required you to make use of the accelerometer of the device), I decided that my next phone would be an Android. It was just a matter of choosing which ones fit into my modest budget, and at that time, the only phone lineup that stood out was Samsung’s starter series: Samsung Galaxy Mini S5570 and Samsung Galaxy Ace S5830.
“I was no power user, no enthusiast, not even a prior smartphone user. And the world of Androids and Galaxies felt magical and awe-inducing. ”
To me, the difference between the low-end Galaxy Mini and the slightly better Galaxy Ace was that one had a 3.2MP camera while the other had a 5MP camera with flash. Future updates, development viability, usable RAM or even the screen resolution were certainly not the aspects that I looked for when I was making my decision. When it came to actually buying the device from the store, the Galaxy Ace overshot my budget by Rs. 2,000 ($30), and the Galaxy Mini was out of stock at that moment. I ended up buying the Samsung Galaxy Fit S5670, the awkward kid in between, which Samsung (in its marketing and promotional materials) pretended never existed.
Feeling ecstatic that I made the best possible decision, I was hit by the shock that the phone did not come with any games preloaded. Remembering the times when my friends loaded up Java games on their Nokia’s, I was disappointed by the fact that to actually make the best use of my phone (which was to play games), I needed a good Internet connection. This was especially a problem back in 2011 in India, as the 3G revolution was just getting started with 3G spectrum allocation being concluded for private operators on Sept 2010. The infrastructure for a superfast 3G experience was nonexistent even in 2011, and the prices for most private operators for a 3G connection remained out of reach for most middle-class consumers. For instance, a 1GB 2G plan costed Rs. 198 ($3) per month, while getting 500MB 3G would have costed upwards of Rs. 400 ($6) per month, in 2011.
As a full-time student, my problems were more aggravated as getting a 2G internet connection right after a “heavy” purchase was beyond my personal scope. To further complicate matters, WiFi adoption for middle-class households was fairly limited, but slightly better when compared to the 3G scene. Businesses were also not on the Wifi Hotspot bandwagon just yet. This presented unique challenges when trying to utilize the full power of Android, as Android (and all modern OS’s) primarily rely on “wireless data” connections to bring functionality beyond the core OS, something which a majority of the world takes for granted.
The struggle of getting a good internet connection to my phone through a wire as well as the hard wall of limited internal storage for apps (which were procured through apk files sent via bluetooth) led me to don my researching hats once again and land upon the doors of XDA. Basic googling and reading skills landed me onto a USB Reverse Tethering Guide and a phone community that would help me shape my Android knowledge and experience for the years to come.
Changes in the Indian environment: Then vs Now
India’s mobile scenarios has evolved greatly, progressing from an infant amongst the mobile giants to being on the forefront of The Next Billion revolution. Things have drastically changed to the point that they now appear as stark contrasts of an age which passed by.
While the erstwhile Indian mobile market had a very bad notion of the word “Chinese” (read: unreliable, easy-to-break), the current scenario suggests a very large part of the Indian pie is being eyed by Chinese giants. With the current “Make In India” campaign, major OEM’s from China, as well as the rest of the world, have come forward to express interest in opening manufacturing units in the country. Along with manufacturing, a lot of Chinese OEM’s are also focusing heavily on the Indian consumer, with the prime players being Xiaomi, Lenovo (and by extension Motorola), Oppo, Meizu, OnePlus and Gionee amongst other smaller manufacturers. Spurred by the oncoming Chinese competition, Indian players, including Micromax, Lava, Karbonn and Intex, have also stepped up to the call.
The result? The market which was predominantly bathed with Nokia’s and Samsung’s is now offering a very wide variety of smartphones and at very competitive prices. Samsung’s top spot in the country was also recently dethroned by Micromax, which ended up being the first local player to take pole position in India. Marketing and advertisements which were primarily the hotspace for Nokia and Samsung are now being shared by a wide variety of smartphone brands.
Spurring this demand for smartphones is the 4G revolution which is set to go mainstream in the country very soon. Airtel launched its 4G service in April 2012 and launched 4G for mobile devices on Feb 2014, and is now offering 4G speeds at the cost of 3G (which they did sneakily inflate prior to making such an offer). Reliance is also in the race by offering 4G services through Reliance Jio, with Vodafone also expressing interest. To further drive along the demand for 4G, both Reliance and Airtel plan to sell 4G-ready handsets, which of course, would primarily be Android. Needless to say, the situation is set to improve as more and more 4G enabled devices hit the market, and 4G becomes more of a comfort instead of the luxury that it currently is.
The Elephant in the room: Piracy
Indian smartphone culture has one glaring flaw that was present back then and still continues to be present. Much like other parts of Asia, piracy is quite rampant in India too. Ranging from small roadside vendors who would sideload apks, music and movies onto SD cards for a small sum to even private commercial institutes using pirated software for their daily activities, piracy is definitely a problem in India.
Within the scope of Android and related apps and themes, the subculture surrounding piracy is gradually shifting towards a stance of opposition. A few years ago, piracy was fuelled by a desire to have apps that one simply could not buy due to country restrictions on Google Play. But now, there are fewer roadblocks involved in purchasing apps through a debit or credit card.
The piracy culture is also on the decline thanks to the introduction of physical Google Play Gift cards which can be purchased from select stores in select cities, thereby eliminating the need of a bank account to purchase apps and hence, making it more friendly towards the middle and lower classes. Google’s decision to change the minimum purchase price of apps to Rs. 10 ($0.15) is also a step in the right direction in eliminating piracy, as apps are now priced keeping in mind the real purchasing power of the Indian currency and the worth that a consumer sees in an app.
India has come a long way in a very short while in its overall mobile and smartphone usage scenario, and it is good to see Android at the helm of this evolution. The country, despite being a mixture of communities and cultures each having their own inertia against changes, has shown a very marked improvement in technological adoption. With significant pushes from both the government as well as private entities like Google and manufacturers, larger sections of the untapped market are now being provided easier access to devices, bandwidth and apps: all 3 of which are needed to provide a cohesive Android experience.
To end this editorial on a happy note, I have progressed from humble and forgotten low end devices to a still-beefy OnePlus One, purchased in April 2015. I don’t expect to kill flagships with this, but the phone does fit very well in usage in the Indian context. Of course, as a proud member of the XDA community, my phone does run either Temasek’s CM12.1 builds (cherry picked features from a wide range of roms) by XDA Recognized Contributor katinatez or SultanXDA’s CM12.1 builds (special camera-focused features) by XDA Recognized Developer Sultanxda, along with our beloved Xposed framework and modules. The inside of the phone gets as many compliments as the outside, as the words “rooting” and “rom” are no longer as alien to the Indian tech community as they were 4 years ago.
Do you have any experiences in how your country and culture influenced your smartphone usage habits? Share your experience and stories in the comments down below!
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