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Google pitches Android One to almost a billion Indian users

NEW DELHI -- India's multi-billion-dollar smartphone market is heating up with the launch of Google's much-awaited $105 Android One smartphone initiative.

     Unveiled in Delhi by Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president for Android, Chrome and apps, the first Android One phones are being sold by India's home-grown e-commerce giants Flipkart and Snapdeal, and are also available through Amazon India.

     Google has joined hands with Indian handset makers Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, and Taiwan-based chipmaker MediaTek, for the first Android One phones in India, a country of 1.2 billion people.

     Smartphones so far account for only 10% of the 900 million mobile phones being used in India. Google hopes Android One will help it penetrate the remaining 90%, particularly in rural areas, and promote easier access to the Internet.

     A large number of smartphones in India, including those in the low-price segment, offer customized versions of the Android operating system, but the new Android One opens the way to software upgrades directly from Google.

     At the Android One launch on Monday, Pichai said the Google smartphones combine a consistent platform with an affordable price. "It is secure and will push updates quickly," he said.

     On Amazon India's website, Micromax's Canvas A1 devices have already sold out and will not be available again for shipping until Thursday. Spice's Dream UNO is being sold through Flipkart and Karbonn's Sparkle V by Snapdeal.

     The Android One smartphones are dual-SIM devices with 4.5-inch screens and a 1.3 GHz quad core processor from MediaTek. Features include a 5-megapixel primary camera, 1 gigabtyte RAM and 4 gigabytes of storage expandable to 32.

     Google's hardware partners can create customized experiences and differentiate their devices without having to change core software. Airtel SIM card users get software updates for free for the first six months.

     MediaTek says the Android One collaboration in India aims to reach a billion people. "It is an initiative to provide a family of high-quality and affordably-priced Android devices for consumers in emerging markets," Mohit Bhushan, MediaTek's vice president and general manager for U.S. corporate marketing, told the Nikkei. MediaTek expects to sell 1.5 to 2 million Android One handsets in India this year. 

     Google says it will also have partners like Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and chipmaker Qualcomm, join the Android One program.

     After using India -- one of the world's fastest growing smartphone markets -- for the Android One launch, the program will expand by year's end to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

     "Android One offers local content in local languages, which could work in its favor," Vishal Tripathi, principal research analyst of Gartner, told the Nikkei, noting that support is available in seven regional languages.  

     Android One is competing in the 7,000-10,000 rupee ($115-164) mid-price segment. Sanchit Gogia, chief analyst and CEO at Greyhound Research, believes it offers "great quality, great cost and great support."

     "It will provide standard hardware and software specs, and will allow snag-free experience to users," says Gogia. 

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