Saumya Tewari

Google Android One: Smartphones for All

Google's Android One program promises an unforgettable smartphone experience for first-time users at attractive prices.

Sam Pitroda, often hailed as the man who ushered in India's telecom revolution, was fond of saying, "Technology is the greatest social leveller, second only to death." One look at the mobile phone phenomena in India makes one realise what he was talking about.

Taking a cue from that insight, global search giant Google recently launched the 'Android One' programme, which aims to provide a high-quality smartphone experience to first-time users in emerging markets. And the first market? India.

Google Android One: Smartphones for All
In a bid to reach its consumers, the company has also rolled out a 360-degree integrated campaign 'Apni kismat, apne haath' depicting an aspiring TG making informed choices in their life via their smartphones. Executed by Ogilvy & Mather, the TVC is a montage of images across various cities depicting the lives of people from different walks of life. The only thread that joins them is technology in form of the Google Android One-powered smartphone, which provides equal opportunities to everyone.

Sandeep Menon, director - marketing, Google, believes that for many, phones are their first gateway to online content and the internet. He says that Android One was conceived with India in mind. Currently, less than 10 per cent of the population in India has access to a smartphone. Android One is a step to address the mobile computing needs of those in markets like India. "For Google, Android One was a journey to try and reach the next five billion people - India accounts for a substantial portion of the share. With Android One we have already set the bar for a great software experience and a great device," he shares.

What is Android One?

Android One is a Google programme, in which it partners with phone companies to create high quality, but low-cost Android smartphones. It is an attempt to create affordable smartphones so that the millions of people who still use a feature phone can buy a smartphone. Android One has some extra customisation that makes it more suitable for low-end hardware but it does not have third-party user interface or unnecessary features.

In the case of normal Android phones, the company selling the phone is responsible for choosing the right hardware and software for the devices. But for Android One phones, Google has laid out guidelines for the hardware and software that the partner phone manufacturers must adhere to. More importantly, Google is also responsible for delivering the software updates for these phones.

For the launch, Google has partnered with Karbonn, Spice and Micromax to launch Karbonn Sparkle V (Rs 6,399), Micromax Canvas A1 (Rs 6,499) and Spice Dream UNO (Rs 6,299). Available online on Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal, Google is working with phone companies to scale Android One to over 200,000 retail locations in over 240 cities before Diwali. These phones will also be available at retailers such as Reliance Digital, The Mobile Store and Chroma.

These phones run on the latest version of Android (4.4 KitKat) and will get the new Android L update. In terms of hardware, the phones feature front- and rear-facing cameras, 1GB of memory, fast quad-core MediaTek processor, long battery life as well as features like dual SIM slots, a FM radio tuner, and a micro-SD card slot for additional storage. It also comes with pre-installed Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search, and Google Translate.

Google also announced that, in the coming weeks, much of YouTube will be available offline in India, meaning that people can store videos in the YouTube app when they are on WiFi and watch them later - a great benefit for times with a slow connection or re-watching videos without using up the data plan. The company will collaborate with other hardware partners like Acer, Alcatel, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo and chipmaker Qualcomm.

The opportunity

Google Android One: Smartphones for All
Google Android One: Smartphones for All
Menon explains that from a consumer point of view, there are three key structural barriers related to hardware, software and data connectivity, which hinder a good user experience. According to him, high-quality phones are expensive and phones based on outdated, old software create terrible consumer (and developer) experiences. Although carriers work hard to offer fast connectivity and data packages, few people in emerging markets have phones that support data. And data plans can be costly.

Giving an idea of the TG of Android One and how quickly the consumer is maturing, Menon says that increasing number of Indians today are looking for information through their smartphones while about a third of their time is spent on apps.

Since 'lack of awareness' among consumers is the major marketing challenge it faces, Google created a program called Android One Ambassadors where retail salespeople, specially trained and certified by Google, provide the right kind of guidance on Android One devices. "At launch, we had 30,000 retail personnel sign up to become ambassadors. People will be able to find the closest Android One Ambassador easily through our website, even if they are using a feature phone," he quips.

Says Abhijit Avasthi, NCD, Ogilvy & Mather, "The idea is to convey that technology provides equal opportunity to everyone. We attempted to capture both rural and urban aspirations while portraying the length and the breath of the country." The campaign has been shot in parts of Rajasthan, Delhi and Mumbai. Directed by Prasoon Pandey, the jingle has been composed by Dhruv Ghanekar and sung by Sameer Mohammed Khan. Neelesh Jain, Ogilvy Mumbai's creative director, has penned the lyrics.

The disrupter

Google Android One: Smartphones for All
Google Android One: Smartphones for All
The experts we spoke to believe that Android One will expand the market and raise benchmarks. Amod Dani, executive creative director, Publicis, has this to say: "Android One is a game changer. Handing out the power of a smartphone at a super low, affordable price should raise a lot of hopes at Google. The ad can make an impactful launch if the track sticks. It does have a sense of 'memorability' to it. However, that's where it ends," he notes adding the track will add to the recall value of the film.

Dani suggests creating stories around the phone showing its utility. Telecom expert Mahesh Uppal believes that while the Android One-powered smartphone offers an attractive price point and functionality, it will face serious competition too.

While the primary TG for Android One is the entry-level consumer, will the pricing and the 'Google' tag get the mid-segment consumers to give these phones a chance? Uppal believes that a lot will depend on user experience and how the brand is perceived.

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