Google unveils $105 Android One phones in India, promises to expand to more partners and countries

As expected, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced the first phones as part of its Android One program, and the software giant is teaming up with local device makers in India to produce smartphones that cost around $105 without subsidies. The Android One initiative is Google's boldest attempt yet to increase smartphone penetration in emerging markets and ensure that Android maintains its firm grip on the low-cost smartphone market.

The Android One program is designed to enable device makers to produce entry-level Android phones that will get the latest Android software updates, have access to all of Google's mobile services and in general be a cut above most cheap Android phones in emerging markets today, which often have low-end hardware and out-of-date software.

The initiative also represents Google's decision to exert more control over how users experience Android in countries such as India, as Android One devices will receive the latest versions of Android directly from Google. That is similar to how Google manages its Nexus device program, in which the devices run stock Android software and Google manages software updates.

"By working closely with phone and silicon chip makers to share reference designs and select components, we're making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable," Sundar Pichai, Google's senior VP of Android, Chrome and Apps, wrote in a company blog post. Further, Pichai said shareware partners will be able create customized experiences and differentiate their devices without having to change the core software.

In an effort to reduce data costs, if customers have a Bharti Airtel SIM card, they will get the software updates free of charge for the first six months. As part of this same Airtel offer, they will also be able to download up to 200 MB per month worth of apps (or about 50 apps overall) from the Google Play store, without incurring mobile data usage.

The first phones are from Micromax, Karbonn and Spice and contain silicon from chipmaker MediaTek. According to CNET, the phones share similar specifications: a 4.5-inch FWVGA display, a quad-core 1.3 GHz MediaTek processor, dual-SIM capability, 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of onboard storage alongside a microSD card slot that can support more memory. The phones also have front-facing and rear-facing cameras.

However, Google said it will also work on the program with a wide range of partners, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex Techologies, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo and chipset giant Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).

Pichai said Google and its partners "expect to see even more high-quality, affordable devices with different screen sizes, colors, hardware configurations and customized software experiences." The company also plans to expand the Android One program to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka by the end of the year, with more countries to follow in 2015.

According to analysts, Android already has a strong foothold in the entry-level smartphone category in emerging markets. "During the second quarter, 58.6 percent of all Android smartphone shipments worldwide cost less than $200 off contract, making them very attractive compared to other devices," IDC analyst Ramon Llamas recently noted. "With the recent introduction of Android One, in which Google offers reference designs below $100 to Android OEMs, the proportion of sub-$200 volumes will climb even higher."

As smartphone price points drop around the world, the rush is on among some platform and device companies to grab market share there. Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Phone hardware partners are expected to produce devices this year that cost less than $200. Mozilla is also working with Intex and other Indian partners to deliver low-cost Firefox OS phones for around $33.

For more:
- see these two separate Google sites
- see these two separate CNET articles
- see this The Verge article
- see this Re/code article

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