How did Android rejuvenate the low-end phones?
By Sitakanta Ray
Android operating system rules the smartphone arena with over 60 per cent of the market share and offers plethora of features that no one would have imagined at the time of its initial release.
Android devices, be it smartphones or tablets, are available at a price range, which starts from as low as INR 3.5K, to as high as INR 46K. A time has come where it appears that even very cheap feature phones are in danger of being replaced by Android smartphones due to better features and performance. Although, it is said that Android is the ‘most closed open source project’ but it can’t be denied that it has rejuvenated the low end phones and gave them a new life. Here are some of the reasons why Android was able to succeed in low-end devices.
Free Operating systems can do wonders
Android is based on Linux kernel under the hood and the development tools for Android are available for free as well. Prior to the existence of Android, most of the low end phones used to be based on proprietary operating systems developed by device manufacturer themselves. But with Android, mobile device manufacturers don’t need to work on the software part as much as they did earlier and anyone can join in the program. Now, device manufacturers can spend a whole lot of their time on improving the hardware quality such as design, processing power and battery life rather than focusing on software.
Also, device manufacturers don’t have to worry about the development of applications and games for their devices; Google Play takes care of it. Although, there is a lot of fragmentation, a lot of necessary apps and games run just fine even in devices with some of the lowest-end hardware configuration. Communication applications like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and WhatsApp are compatible with every Android smartphone released in past 3-4 years and that’s what people need the most. Also, in my personal experience, prior to the release of Android, very few mobile subscribers used to subscribe to data plans in their mobile devices. But these days, a lot of Android smartphone users are using a data plan to download and use apps, services and games from Google Play. Apart from these things, an operating system backed up by Google services meant that people not only use the phone, they enjoyed it practically. Stuff like push mail notifications, calendar sync and accurate maps were not even imaginable in low end feature phones a couple of years ago. We can absolutely say that the quality and usability of low end phones has definitely been increased due to the presence of Android.
Applications with in-app advertisements bring a win-win situation for both – consumer & developers.
Also, the consumers who buy these low end smartphones mostly feel a huge pain to further spend money on both; an Internet connection and buying apps. But application developers won’t develop apps unless they see any profit in it. This problem is solved by free applications that are backed up by advertisements. It brings a win-win situation for both consumers (using free service & apps/games) and developers (by letting them earn through advertisement impressions within their apps/games).
Standardized hardware brought down the cost of manufacturing
After the advent of Android, almost all the smartphones vendors are using a very standardized hardware components and assembly process. If you have a look at the processors used in smartphones, they are from Qualcomm, TI, NVidia, Intel, Samsung, MediaTek or RockChip. Screens are from Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sharp. Camera modules are offered by Sony, Toshiba, Samsung and Omnivision. Radios are mostly provided by Qualcomm and Broadcom. Companies like Qualcomm have helped a lot in bringing down the cost of mobile phone manufacturing by integrating all the necessary connectivity and processing components in a single chip. On the processing side, the CPU cores, graphic processing cores and RAM are integrated within a single chip that is easier to assemble and saves cost, space and power.
Standardized hardware components like SoC are helping in decreasing designing, manufacturing and assembly costs of smartphones.
Up until now, Qualcomm has been the lone manufacturer of such chips but is now competing with a new entrant in the market; MediaTek. The chips from MediaTek are cheaper than Qualcomm and still have decent processing ability and dual SIM compatibility. You can find these MediaTek chips in most of the low-end phones from local and Chinese brands offering immense value for money. Particularly, the Micromax Canvas 2 (priced at INR 10K) has been the best-seller last year due to some impressive specifications such as dual-core processor, decent GPU, large 5-inch screen and HD video recording capable camera.
Can Mozilla Firefox OS defeat Android in low-end smartphone market?
Mozilla Firefox appears to have the DNA to improve features & performance of low cost smartphones and even beating Android in this regard.
After quite some time, a credible player is coming to challenge Android in the low-end mobile phone market – Mozilla’s Firefox OS. This is a new, Linux based operating system that is fully open source and built upon web technologies. Smartphones and tablets based on Mozilla Firefox OS will be out in the market by the end of 2013 and they are aiming at low-end, low cost devices for emerging markets. As it is built to play nice with web technologies, most of the apps and games will be based on web technologies. Most of the applications will just be mobile version of web pages. It needs to be seen how they can compete with Android which has a robust application store in combination with Google services but the price difference can be a huge deciding factor.
After the advent of Android, standard hardware components started becoming available to a lot of mobile phone brands at ultra-low cost and operating system for free to implement. Now, the average experience from an entry level mobile phone is much better due to better hardware and the topping of Google services makes it ‘free icing’ on the cake.
Author is the co-founder of MySmartPrice.com