One Not Dead: A Broader View Will Expand & Rekindle Android One

One Not Dead: A Broader View Will Expand & Rekindle Android One

When the Android One project started off in 2014, it gave many the hope of a Nexus experience, but for the masses. It stood for the fact that buying a phone in a developing country isn’t always about buying hardware: you do pay in part for the software — past, present and future.

With Android One, you are not resigned to staying with what you purchased: there was scope for future improvements and features to come your way, for no extra cost.

This was a big deal, because these devices were aimed at an audience with smaller disposable incomes, the ones which were unlikely to purchase a new phone until and unless their old one stopped working. Android One stood as a means against planned obsolescence, as it seeked to upgrade and enhance the experience on the software-end of things, and help users get the absolute most from their devices. On paper, at least.

Google’s aim for Android One was slightly different. It was projected as a means to get the next Billion users on board the smartphone experience. The devices were tools to get people connected and integrated with Google as a platform, and give them a means to start using Google Apps and services. Developing countries like India, other South East Asian nations as well as African nations have a vast, untapped population which has not been exposed to smartphones. As developed markets saturate and competition gets stiffer to the point of break even, these areas were the next logical point for profitable expansion.

But in reality, Android One was not as successful as we wished, nor as Google had hoped. There were a fair few reasons and shortcomings on the program. Speaking on Android One in India, the first effort from Google tanked despite offering one of the best options in the lowest tier of smartphones. The program was set to be given a shot in the arm with the Second Generation, but that too failed to elicit results as it went in a very different direction on the price from the first one.

Reports emerged in late 2015 that Google plans to keep going. New Android One devices were in the pipeline, and Google had tried to make the program much more flexible. There would be more freedom with component and feature selection, giving rise to a larger variety of devices at different price points and different value scales.

Economic Times got into a discussion with Mike Hayes, currently at the head of Android & Chrome Partnerships at Google, who told ET that a broader view of the Android One programmer was being taken into account in India, even as the program is attracting interest from OEMs globally.

One of the notable points to take away from the discussion is that Android One forms a part of a broader business strategy for hardware for Google. This implies that looking at separate Android One devices, or even Generations would be a narrow scope to look at things through. The success of the program is to be judged on its ability to accomplish its goals as a sum total of separate, individual efforts. These individual efforts, however, are dependent on the OEMs participating: they are free to release and work on devices at their own pace. The discussion also touched upon whether the partnerships from phase one (Micromax, Karbonn and Spice) are still intact, as Google’s current best friend in India appears to be Lava. As it stands, these relationships are still intact, with regular discussions taking place with these Indian sellers.

Will there by more Android One devices?

It’s safe to say, yes!

One thing that the discussion affirmed was that there will be more Android One devices in India. Further, since there is much more freedom in component selection, we will see a larger variety of devices. This gives us hope on the possibility of an “Indian Nexus”: a device that does not skimp on specs, but stays competitive on pricing while still giving an updated Android experience. Nothing of this sort was hinted at in the discussion, but it is an eventuality that will arise sooner or later due to the sheer cutthroat nature of competition in the budget categories. OEMs will seek to move onwards towards price ranges with better profit margins, and will fill in market slots for demands that are left unfulfilled.

The next notable point of discussion was the recently introduced carrier billing in India.

At its quiet launch last week, carrier billing is being restricted to only Idea subscribers, which is a curious choice on Google’s end as Idea is the third largest in India in terms of subscriber base as of February 2016 with 17% of the market share, languishing behind Vodafone at 19% and Airtel at 24%. Ignoring Airtel and Vodafone for carrier billing seems odd: combined they control close to half the market, with their popularity being distinctly higher in urban areas, areas that are much more likely to have higher disposable incomes with a greater propensity to spend this income onto intangible goods and services like Android apps and games.

Google does plan to land on the other carriers, but there was no timeframe given. They mentioned some carriers being more progressive, while others are still under discussion. There is a good chance that carrier billing does eventually come onto all carriers, as that would make it much more easier to purchase content from the Play Store by increasing the accessibility to payment mediums outside of bank cards that can do international payments.

What are the levels of talks with other telcos?

We are actively engaging with other major carriers. I can’t give a specific date but we expect that in the short term, there will be several announcements that we would announcing with them.

Google did introduce Play Gift Cards and Prepaid vouchers in India, and that was a very welcome move indeed. But the denominations certainly drove people away. At the lowest denominations, you could purchase a Google Play Gift Card for Rs. 750 ($11.26) or a Google Play Prepaid Voucher for Rs. 500 ($7.51). In contrast, Google lowered the minimum pricing allowed on apps on the Play Store for the Indian market to just Rs. 10 ($0.15)! Speaking from personal experience, a lot of average consumers around me definitely wanted to pickup a few games and apps during their sale seasons, but were not very enthused about freezing in a far greater amount of cash in the Gift Cards (which are more widely available as compared to the Prepaid Vouchers). Smaller denomination cards, possibly for Rs. 100 – 200 ($1.5 – $3) would attract a lot more sales in quantity, successfully converting freeloaders into paying customers which would otherwise not part with their money.

What kind of revenue surge you are expecting after the Idea deal?

We are quite excited about the results we have seen in the other markets. For instance, In Indonesia we have seen 4x growth in the number of buyers in 18 months. So carrier billing has played a critical role in getting more buyers on to the platform. We are seeing similar encouraging results in markets like Saudi Arabia, UAE. We expect same results in India.

Google is certainly investing a lot into the Indian economy. From installing free hi-speed wifi across the country, to committing to Android One despite repeated failures, there is no doubt that India will be the battle ground to watch for in the near future.

Will the rejuvenated Android One fight against stiff competition from products from Chinese and Indian manufacturers? Or will it be relegated to remaining a part of the broader plan, doomed by its improper marketing? Let us know in the comments below!

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