Last week, finance minister P Chidambaram's budget for 2013-14 announced that phones costing more than Rs. 2,000 will be subject to an excise duty of 6% against 1%. Before the financial year is through, we may have some smartphones going below that price, though that seems a stretch.
I confess it is tough keeping up with the geeks. New products are emerging even before customers get used to the last level, and relentless innovation makes it all cheaper.
The revolution is possible because competition in the industry, the very nature of the technology, and the open source and open standards movements have kept the pressure up for both innovation and price cuts. At the Barcelona Mobile World Congress, Nokia announced phones that are nearly as good as smartphones at Rs. 4,600, which for a leading brand is a big comedown.
Google's Android operating system, offered to handset makers free so they can make software-heavy smartphones cheap, is a runaway hit, but no one is resting yet. Android 5.0 is in the making. Google is widely expected to unveil this alongside new Nexus hardware and the anticipated Motorola X Phone. The OS is likely to be called Key Lime Pie.
But Android is getting new rivals this year. The Mozilla Foundation, which makes the Firefox browser, has unveiled the Firefox OS for smartphones. It says Firefox OS smartphones are "the first to be built entirely to open Web standards, enabling every feature to be developed as an HTML5 application."
HTML5 is an advanced markup language that enables the development of Web content. In plain English, it dramatically eases the making of rich multimedia content in a world where different devices talk to each other through the Internet.
Ubuntu, a free desktop software operating system made by Canonical Inc, also announced this year a smartphone interface as well as a tablet version, whicha are expected to make entry-level smartphones cheaper. Ubuntu has also developed an Android version of its desktop operating system. The gee-whiz factor is that it will turn an Android phone into a dual boot computer. How cool is that!
Footnote: transparent smartphones made with advanced glass are also on the way.