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Intelligent Machines

Google Announces Sub- $100 Smartphone

A new line of smartphones designed by Google could spread Internet access more widely in poor regions of the world.

Billions of people may get their first experience of the Internet through Google’s mobile operating system.

A low-cost smartphone designed by Google will go on sale in India this fall before debuting in other emerging economies, the company announced today.

The phones will be branded “Android One,” after the company’s mobile operating system Android, and will cost less than $100. They are part of a new effort by Google to get devices based on its software into the hands of people who currently lack access to the Internet.

Already, one billion people use phones running Google’s Android software, said Sundar Pichai, leader of Google’s Android division, at the company’s I/O conference in San Francisco today. “Our goal is to reach the next five billion people in the world,” he said. “In India and other countries like that, it’s disappointing that less than 10 percent of the population have access to smartphones.”

Google has also developed a series of smartphone “reference designs” that it is making available to manufacturers. On stage, Pichai introduced a device based on one of those designs, made by the Indian manufacturer MicroMax.

That device will go on sale in India this fall for less than $100. Its features include a 4.5-inch screen, dual SIM card slots, an SD memory card slot, and an FM radio.

Similar devices from two other Indian manufacturers, Carbon and Spice, will also go on sale this fall, and Android One devices are expected to appear in other countries soon, said Pichai. In contrast to the arrangement with many Android devices, Google, not manufacturers or wireless carriers, will be responsible for updating the software on Android One devices. The company is working with wireless carriers to make low-cost data plans available, he said.

Like other initiatives by Google and its competitors to spread access to computing and the Internet in poor countries, Android One could help bring a lucrative new customer base online (see “Facebook’s Two Faces”).

Indeed, low-cost Android phones are already  common in many emerging economies (see “Android Marches on East Africa”). But many of those devices use versions of the open-source software that don’t include services such as search, maps, and e-mail or access to Google’s app store. Android One devices will have those capabilities by default.

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