I’ve just come back from a six-episode shoot for Kaun Banega Crorepati. Besides plugging that in to chest thump a bit (I created history there, so do try and catch that show), the other reason to mention it, right in the beginning is because of something strange that happened there. As is typical of each episode, the always energetic host of the show, Amitabh Bachchan, threw me a bit of a curve ball within the first few seconds. He asked me how I handle so much tech around me, and the fact that it comes at the speed of light and that the quantum is so great.
Also read: Life after KBC, into the world of middle-class crorepatis
While I hee-hawed myself out of it and gave a very boring answer about passion and how it drives me, it really did get me thinking. Why do I do this? It’s relentless and never ending, yet I am far from jaded by it. In fact, I wake up every day brighter and raring to go. And, the reason is that there is more excitement and controversy in the world of tech than politics, sports and lifestyle put together.
Case in point: The world -headline-making news of the launch of Android One in India.
Also read: Fifty shades of Android
What it is
At its simplest, Android One is Google’s attempt to get a smartphone into the hands of the next billion. A phone that has fantastic high-end specs at fantastic low-end prices. A smartphone that doesn’t compromise on performance, looks, features, capabilities – but is priced just under the dream price of a $100.
But, beneath that noble “let’s save the world one phone at a time” intention lies a brilliant back story that will have a tectonic effect on the mobile phone market worldwide. Before I tell that tale, let’s take a quick look at the Android One phone.
The Phone itself
Affordable: The Micromax Canvas AI also makes the Android One
Three companies from across the world have been chosen to release the Android One phone. Micromax, Spice and Karbonn. All three are Indian and all three have done a fabulous job. I’m going to review the Spice Dream UNO, but in effect this is a review of all three.
The Spice Dream UNO is a very light but well-built phone that feels premium in the hand and gives a very polished look. It has a 4.5-inch 854 x 480 IPS Display, a MediaTek 1.3 GHz quad-core CPU, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of internal storage, a 5 mega pixel rear camera that gives surprisingly good pictures, FM radio, dual SIM support, a 1700 mAh battery, runs a stock version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat and will be the first in line along with Nexus devices to get the Android L update. Airtel pumps in 200 MB of free data every month plus you can watch YouTube videos offline.
The Spice Dream UNO retails for Rs 6,299, the Karbonn Sparkle V for Rs 6,399 and the Micromax Canvas A1 for Rs 6,499.
Behind the scenes
So, that’s the Android One phone. But behind this phone is a fantastic tale of how this simple phone may disrupt the market like never before. The phone may have been released by three brands, but make no mistake about it, this is a Google phone lock, stock and barrel.
Materials used, form factor, specs, chipset, the fact that it can only use stock Android as an OS, no customisation by any of the brands, the price it will sell at, where it will sell from, it’s all Google.
It also is the start of a new paradigm shift in the business of mobiles. These low-priced phones mean that brands will have to make huge changes in their portfolio to adjust for them, which also means that most of the power is taken away from the brand. It heralds a new era where profit margins for companies will come crashing down, which may lead to fewer innovations in the long run.
This makes all other Android phones look very overpriced. In fact, all top-of-the-line flagship Android phones may sink as they will look completely out of touch with price points.
The chosen one: The Spice Dream UNO is a well-built phone that gives a very polished and premium look and great price too
Android One isn’t restricted to these three big brands. Many others have signed in too. Yet, there seems to be a slight nervousness in the air from all brand partners worldwide. This is Google taking control over the hardware business and dictating everything. These noble intentions from Google may also end up nullifying the role of the brand completely and a serious backlash may come about soon.
So, my advice is, if you are in the market for a good economy Android phone, run, don’t walk, and buy one. Who knows if these kind of prices will last when a backlash comes about.
Also, everyone at KBC, could you change my rather boring answer to this one: “I love technology as there is no other place in the world that generates more headlines and controversies every single day.” That is so much better and more truthful than the terribly boring one I gave.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, September 28
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