Google launched the first Android One phones in India starting at $103 from Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice, and backed by direct Android updates from Google.
Google announced its Android One initiative for selling budget Android phones in developing countries at June’s Google I/O conference. Like its Nexus program, Android One defines a mobile reference platform with a stock, up-to-date Android stack free of bloatware and UI skins. With Android One, however, multiple phones and manufacturers are supported at once, and the program also encompasses Google-directed data plans and update services that are typically offered by carriers or manufacturers.
Android one reference design, exploded view
(click image to enlarge)
Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice have launched the first Android One phones: the Micromax Canvas A1 (6,499 Rupees), the Karbonn Sparkle V (6,399 Rs), and the Spice Dream Uno (6,299 Rs). The prices range from about $106 down to $103, and don’t require contracts. All the phones run Android 4.4 on a new 1.3GHz, quad-core Cortex-A7 system-on-chip from Mediatek called the MT6582. The SoC features a Mali-400 GPU and supports HD video.
Spice Dream Uno (left) and Micromax Canvas A1
(click images to enlarge)
Google also announced a new group of vendors that plan to offer Android One phones, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Xolo. Qualcomm is also listed, although the chipmaker is presumably working on a Snapdragon-based reference design, rather than an actual Qualcomm-branded commercial phone. While the first three phones are almost identical, future models will offer different screen sizes, colors, hardware configurations, and customized software experiences, says Google.
By the end of the year, Android One phones will be launched in Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, says Google. More countries are expected to follow in 2015.
The first three phones have slightly different styling and dimensions, as well as extras such as cloud storage, but are otherwise almost identical. In addition to sharing the same Mediatek MT6582 processor, they all provide 1GB of RAM and 4GB of flash, about half of which is available to users, depending on the model. A microSD slot, which marks a welcome departure from Google’s previous Nexus phones, supports up to 32GB of additional storage.
Karbonn Sparkle V
The Android One phones feature 4.5-inch, IPS capacitive touchscreens with 854 x 480-pixel resolution, and offer both 5- and 2-megapixel cameras. They all provide dual-SIM 3G GSM, as well as 3G WCDMA cellular and 2G GPRS support. Other wireless services include Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, GPS, and a fairly important feature in India: FM radio. The phones feature “all-day,” user-swappable 1700mAh batteries, as well as micro-USB and 3.5mm audio ports, and G-sensor, proximity, and light sensors.
Google is providing direct Android updates for the phones, which will be the first to receive the upcoming Android L release. Google is working with Airtel to provide affordable 3G data plans to customers that will not charge users for downloading Android updates during the first six months. You can also download up to 200MB per month (about 50 apps) from Google Play without incurring charges. To further reduce the burden of high data charges, Google has included a modified YouTube app that enables offline viewing.
Anti-fragmentation battle moves to developing world
In recent years, Google has used its Nexus models and more rapid updates to help repair the once onerous problem of Android fragmentation. Android will never be as standardized as an iPhone, but more and more Android users in major markets are now using the same, fairly up-to-date versions. With Android One, Google is taking this campaign to the more chaotic scene in developing countries.
Google’s soup-to-nuts approach with Android One, including updates and data plans, is likely to be well-received in India. Despite already being the third largest smartphone market in the world after China and the U.S., India’s market is still largely untapped. According to Reuters, only 10 percent of Indians have a smartphone, but the figure is expected to double within four years. Samsung leads the overall Indian smartphone market with a 29 percent share, followed by Micromax (18 percent), Karbonn (8 percent), and Lava (6 percent).
The Indian market is plagued by rampant fragmentation and lack of access to recent updates. As in China, many Android phones sold in India use forked, older versions of Android, resulting in many users running old Android versions that are never updated. There are widespread incompatibilities between apps and hardware, and the lightly policed, third-party app stores offer more opportunities for malware.
The first Android One phones are not the cheapest Android phones available in India, but they set a standard for quality, features, performance, and convenience that should offer considerable appeal. Android One will likely pressure some companies that sell phones with forked versions of Android to join Android One or lower their prices even further.
Intex Cloud FX
with Firefox OS
The announcement could also provide a shot across the bow to Microsoft, which owns the Nokia feature phone platform that still dominates mobile handsets in the developing world. Additionally, Android One could compete with the new Firefox OS phones introduced recently in India by Intex and Spice, which use a new low-cost Spreadtrum chipset. However, the Intex Cloud FX and the Spice Fire One Mi-FX 1 sell for considerably less than the cheapest Android phones, at $33 and $38, respectively. They are also limited to the slower single-core Cortex-A5 Spreadtrum processor, and offer smaller 3.5-inch, 320 x 480 screens and lower power cameras. Spice, for example, appears to be comfortable in selling both Firefox OS and Android One phones, and Intex will soon offer an Android One model too.
The Micromax Canvas A1 (6,499 Rupees), Karbonn Sparkle V (6,399 Rs), and Spice Dream Uno (6,299 Rs) Android One phones are available now in India at sites including Amazon.in, Flipkart, and Snapdeal. More information on the phones may be found at the Micromax Canvas A1, Karbonn Sparkle V , and Spice Dream Uno product pages.