NEW YORK — Taiwan’s leading mobile chip vendor will power Google’s Android One low-cost smartphones targeted at emerging markets. The initiative aims to put feature-rich handsets in a largely untapped smartphone arena, which MediaTek dubs the “super-mid market.”
Mohit Bhushan, vice president and general manager of US business development for MediaTek, says there are approximately 50 million smartphone users in India. (MediaTek expects that user base to bloat to 500 million by 2017.)
"Economic and technology trends are clearly fueling a new middle class, which has purchasing power, and this class is also very cost conscious," Bhushan told EE Times. "The next 12 months in India are going to be exploding in terms of bringing people on to the Internet, and that’s all happening with mobile devices. We can see how big the pie can grow."
The handsets will be powered by MediaTek’s MT6582 mobile SoC, based on a quad-core ARM Cortex A7 processor with integrated multimedia hardware and 3G modem. While Bhushan says the 6,400 rupee (US$105) phone will eventually be available in a variety of configurations, the first-generation model has a 4.5 inch display, 2 megapixel camera, 1 Gbit RAM, a removable battery, and an SD card to expand storage.
This silicon is “smack in the middle segment, not the low-end, not the high-end. It’s a very mainstream platform,” Bhushan told us. “Right now we are pretty much wedded to 6582, but we can very well scale it… by using the next one up, MTK6592.”
The next-level MediaTek silicon is an octa-core processor that could be launched in the second version of Android One phones, which Bhushan expects around Christmas this year or the first quarter of 2015. Although Google and MediaTek hope to create a scalable set of inexpensive handsets, both companies are focused on ODM and carrier rollouts.
Google and MediaTek have launched the smartphones with Indian mobile players Tinno, Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice Mobiles, alongside plans to partner with Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and Qualcomm. Bhushan says the next step would be bringing additional ODMs online to “to add diversity of components” including more display and camera choices.
“One good thing is they’re working with local brands. People in those economic areas like to work with brands from their region,” Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, told EE Times. “For lower-cost phones, the local player is going to be much more important that big multinationals. Multinationals will never hit the price point you’re going to need for those markets.”
TECHnalysis Research's O'Donnell says Google and MediaTek are targeting a "young, upwardly mobile" demographic with Android One.
Price point will play a huge role in these emerging markets, which include the Philippines and Nepal in addition to India. The $25 Firefox phone may be more in line with price expectations in the Indian market, O’Donnell says, adding that some feature phones in the region go for $5.
“The phone will have a lot more apps because it’s Google based, but a lot of initial buyers aren’t going to have an existing library of apps, so they won’t necessarily know what they’re missing,” he says. “The question that remains is: Is there a tier above a feature phone into this cheap smartphone or not?”
Bhushan definitely believes there is a market, and notes that this will be a “different strokes for different folks” situation.
“I think there’s a place for everything. As we put our hardware expertise with [Google’s] software ability applied to the market, it will create a very big pool from lower segment into super-mid segment where consumers will look to spend a little bit more and get this really capable device that’s loaded with relevance.”
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times