Eye On A Billion New Users In India, Google Teams With China’s Xiaomi

Revamping a stalled effort to showcase its mobile software for users in emerging markets, Google is teaming with China’s Xiaomi Corp. to resurrect its Android One smartphone program for India.

The first under the Android One banner, the Xiaomi’s Mi A1 dual-camera device goes on sale Tuesday for 14,999 rupees ($234). Noting a persistent weakness when compared with Apple Inc.’s pricier and often beefier iPhones, Alphabet Inc’s search giant wanted to get affordable phones in circulation sporting the latest features and started the project in India three years ago. But the interest waned after the early partners, particularly in India, couldn’t sell enough of the devices.

The Indian partnership is intended to shore up their presence in the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market and marks a departure from Google’s earlier cheap-gadgets approach. Aimed be sold in countries from Indonesia and Vietnam to Russia and Mexico as well, the Mi A1 is a mid-range phone. By arresting losses in market share, in part, by going overseas, Xiaomi, now the No. 2 brand in India, seeks to rejuvenate growth. While ultimately imposing order on a fragmented Android ecosystem, Google wants to capture more users.

“Google came to us in Q4 of last year as they were seeking to evolve their Android One program,” Xiaomi Senior Vice President Wang Xiang wrote in an email. “The Mi A1 is an entirely new type of device.” He added that the all-aluminum smartphone comes with free unlimited storage of photos and videos, and is Xiaomi’s first with a dual camera to be launched in India. Devices will be better optimized for Google Assistant.

A signature project of Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai’s, then Google’s Android head, Android One was launched in India at the end of 2014. He tried get more people to Google’s bread-and-butter services by pushing to get more people in emerging markets online. Android’s fragmentation, where most phones with Google’s software run older, less secure versions, werer also advocated to be fixed by him.

Oi order to allow its partners to sell devices for near $100, Google said it was setting manufacturing reference points at the outset.

Sales numbers for Micromax, Spice and Karbonn were underwhelming even as the India’s three biggest phonemakers released a bunch of models priced around that level. But as the program seemed to falter in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia as well, then came a lull in launches.

The lower end of India’s smart phone market which is intensely fought and where brand affiliation matters less and margins are thin will be avoided by Xiaomi’s new phone which is aimed at the middle market, reaching fewer Indian buyers. Android Vice President Jamie Rosenberg said that Google was convinced to be moved away from cheap gadgets by SoftBank Group Corp. For between $200 and $500 apiece in its own stores, it would carry phones running Android One specifications, the Japanese company announced in the past year.

Google is dropping certain specifications that pushed manufacturers to produce cheaper phones under the re-tooled Android One model. Rosenberg said that Version 2.0 is less “one-size-fits-all.” The goal remains the same: Getting the latest Google services in more hands.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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