Google eyes smart feature phones segment yet again
Photo Credit: Reuters

Google is back exploring the Indian semi-urban and rural market with its revamped cheap smartphone programme.

In its first attempt in 2014, the internet giant had partnered with Micromax, Karbonn and Lava to roll out the devices under its Android One initiative. Analysts and experts were, however, of the opinion that the initiative not only failed to provide value proposition for the customer, but the company also lacked proper marketing initiatives.

At the third edition of Google for India, wherein it showcases products exclusively for the Indian market, the company introduced the Android Oreo, Go edition, which is expected to provide users with “a new smartphone experience for entry-level devices”.

Google said that the phones running Android Oreo (Go edition), will have 512MB to 1GB of RAM and a better performing OS with built-in data management and security features. It will hit the shelves in the coming months.

According to Sameer Samat, vice president of product management, Play-plus Android, the devices will come with a few pre-installed apps, besides lighter versions of most apps that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. The new OS is already available to the Android ecosystem of developers, partners and carriers.

Analysts said that the Go edition of Oreo is Google’s second effort to get into the entry-level segment. “The earlier devices under the Android One initiative did not perform seamlessly because of the disparity between hardware and software requirements, besides concerns over battery life. Now, Google seems to have calibrated the OS and apps as per low-specifications hardware,” Navkender Singh, senior technology analyst at IDC India, told VCCircle.

“This should allow Indian domestic manufacturers, such as Karbonn, Micromax and Lava, to come back to the entry-level smartphone segment, from which they were booted out by Xiaomi, itel and Lenovo. India still has a potential target of 800 million new internet or smartphone users,” Singh added.

Some analysts also believe that the move will allow Google to collect user data across price bands. “The old Android One programme had targeted the Rs 2,500-5,000 smartphone segment. Now it would also get into the Rs 10,000-15,000 category. Google’s Pixel devices already tracks data from the premium segment of consumers. Now with GO, Google can track usage or data across all price bands,” said Tarun Pathak, associate director, Counterpoint Research.

Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst at Greyhound Research, said: “The fight is all about collecting data and using that data to come up with solutions not only for India, but for other countries.” However, he said that the launch of the new OS cannot guarantee more users.

“India crossed the 400-million internet user mark this year and the population is consuming more data than ever before at 4GB on an average every month. This is projected to grow to 11GB per month over the next four years. The growing base of internet users is hungry for better online experiences and, we at Google, have been working to build new products and features specifically for them,” said Rajan Anandan, vice-president, Google for Southeast Asia.

Google has also launched a lighter version of its Assistant on Jio's smart feature phone. “For the first time ever, globally, the Google Assistant will be available on a feature phone. Whether in entry-level smartphones or JioPhones, the Google Assistant can help you call, text, play music and videos, and access other apps,” said Gummi Hafsteinsson, product management director at Google.

“Earlier the company had anticipated that all Indians would be on smartphones post the huge adoption cycle two years ago. However, that momentum has shifted and people want to keep using feature phones. Google did not want to miss out on those users,” Pathak added.

According to Counterpoint data, India has already adopted close to 10 million smart feature phones. The country has over 400 million feature phone users and 370 million smartphone users.

Telecom service providers, including Reliance Jio, and domestic handset-makers, such as Micromax and Karbonn, have been trying to take the lead in the smart feature phones segment, but has so far fallen behind Chinese handset-makers, who have a considerable presence in the entry-level and mid-segment smartphones space.

The market share of Micromax and Karbonn fell to 7.1% and 3.2%, respectively, in the April-June period from 10.2% and 6% in July-September 2016. Preliminary data for the third quarter of 2017 also show that Micromax is trailing behind South Korean giant Samsung and China’s itel in the feature phones category with a market share of 11%.

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