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Google for India: Android Go, Google Go, Assistant for JioPhone and more, Google’s going India first

Google's latest announcements show that the company is serious about building its base in India, with products that have been built for local conditions.

  • Updated: December 5, 2017 2:02 PM IST
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Ever since it’s dominated the search engine space, Google has looked to further its reach across various avenues including operating systems, devices, voice, linguistics, image management and more recently, AI and machine learning. At first glance, in case this grid of dots didn’t seem to connect, the Google for India event did shed some light.

The next billion

In the world today, the two most populous nations are China and India, in that order. But the rate at which we’re progressing as a nation, the United Nations believes we will outdo the Chinese population by 2022. A closer look at the demographics of the two emerging superpowers will tell you why India makes for a more lucrative market. The strong presence of an active youth, connected citizens, and a truly mobile-first world make it so. But to top it all, free and a fair access to the internet. Free, as in freedom.

With such a peculiar mix, India brings with it brilliant opportunity for growth. And Google seems to have caught on to this catalyst for growth.It announced an array of products and features through which it aims to offer ‘richer experiences for the ever-growing base of Indian internet users.’

According to Caesar Sengupta, Vice-President, Next Billion Users, “Our India-first suite of products and features are aimed to help more people discover how the internet can make life easier and more convenient — whether it’s helping pay bills on time, navigating through the quickest routes or searching for answers to questions wherever we are. These products and features are India-first, but they are not India-only. When we build better products for India, we ultimately build better products for everyone.”

Android for budget devices

Among the key reasons why Android enjoys dominating market share in a market such as India is the depth and width of its product portfolio. The devices that run Android are available from entry-level smartphones and tablets, right up to flagships that compete with the likes of the iPhone and the iPad, which are still targeted at the premium consumer segment. But with that also comes the problem of fragmentation. Google is keen to solve that problem.

After announcing it at Google I/O 2017, Android Go is finally making inroads into the Indian market. According to Sameer Samat, VP of Product Management for Play and Android, “the Android Oreo (Go edition) is available to the Android ecosystem of developers, partners and carriers with today’s release of Android 8.1.”

With the rollout of Go, consumers with devices having 512MB to 1GB of RAM will be able to enjoy a better experience. Typically devices in that segment were unusable after being loaded with apps. Services such as Google Assistant were a far-fetched goal. Samat adds, “There is also a new set of pre-installed Google apps, including Google Go, designed to be lighter and more relevant to the unique needs of the next billion users.”

For the first time ever globally, the Google Assistant will be available on a feature phone

At today’s event, Gummi Hafsteinsson, Product Management Director announced, “For the first time ever globally, the Google Assistant will be available on a feature phone.” Google’s AI assistant would be available on Reliance JioPhone. With this move, in addition to optimizing its existing set of products and services, Google is also leapfrogging into the entry level feature phone segment, which Reliance just tapped into with the JioPhone.

Google Go, a new Indian internet user

It’s evident that Google has set its sight on the untapped opportunity of millions of citizens getting access to internet connectivity in India. And while it’s targeting evolved users through its offering of AI and machine learning, it’s also offering a better experience to budget users by optimizing the user experience through Android Go. Google’s VP Engineering, Shashidhar Thakur while introducing Google Go, said that the new app from Google Search is “tailor-made for the millions of people in India coming online for the first time.”

Google Go factors in the new emerging billion people, with limited device capability, limited awareness and skill in interfacing with technology as well as the limited connectivity available to them. Google Go enables them to search for information by tapping first rather than typing. Thakur added that the app works fast even on entry-level devices and spotty connections, and as a result new internet connected phone users would be able to access, search and consumer information via Google despite limitations at the device, or network level. Be it the app install size itself, or data consumption, Google has factored in these concerns to keep the product as lean as possible.

Google Go will be available as a preview starting today on the Google Play Store in India. And since this is another app from Google with its India-first approach, it also allows you to switch and view results to your queries in Hindi as well. It’s quite likely more languages would be added to the list. This way, users with limited skills in English could also take advantage with their new-found access to the internet, which is significantly driven by English.

Files Go

While still on the topic of new users with entry-level devices and the constraints that come with it, Google has announced Files Go. It’s an app that brings similar capabilities to what’s already found on Google Photos that helps clear unwanted photos, to file management.

For instance, if you’re inundated by frequent screen captures, and WhatsApp forwards, or files and images that are received through multiple forwards that are redundant, AI and machine learning capabilities would do the clean-up for you. You’d still have the power to decide. The app would suggest to you what it deems unwanted and weight on your storage. This may not mean much to a flagship device with about 64 or 128GB of space. But it means everything to someone on an entry level phone with say 16 or 32GB space, within which email, social media, music, videos and the OS itself needs to be accommodated. Google launched the official version on the Google Play Store today.

Group Product Manager, Josh Woodward announced the official global launch of Files Go.He said the app “helps free up space, find files faster and share files offline with people nearby. In tests over the last month, the average user saved 1GB of space.”

Two wheeler navigation

Google also announced a special Two-Wheeler Mode in Google Maps. Martha Welsh, Director Google Maps said, “India is the world’s largest two-wheeler market and the navigation needs of these millions of riders are different from automobile drivers. Two-wheeler mode in Maps gives routes that use shortcuts not accessible to cars. It also provides customized traffic and arrival time estimations.” With this update, Google Maps will be able to suggest routes that are more optimized for bikers and cyclists.

Two-wheeler mode in Maps gives routes that use shortcuts not accessible to cars

Until now, Google Maps was predominantly used for cars and walking routes. But considering that India is a market dominated by two-wheelers, this is a product feature that originated in India. The two-wheeler mode uses machine learning to suggest more relevant routes for riders, using smaller roads and two-wheeler-friendly shortcuts. It will also show major landmarks on the route so that riders can better plan their trip before starting, and not keep checking their phone on-the-go. Two-wheeler mode will be available in India starting today, with more countries in the coming months.

Tez – yet another means to pay bills

After launching in September, Google Tez has grown to over 12 million users over the past couple of months. While unveiling the new Bill Pay feature in Tez, Caesar Sengupta, Vice President, Next Billion Users, said, “Google’s India-first mobile payments app Tez, now at 12M users, will start offering a customized experience to pay bills from within the app.”

Although existing services such as Bharat Bill Pay by NPCI have drawn leading banks to implement bill payments into their existing banking apps, Tez packages this in a user friendly interface. In addition, as Sengupta added, “It will remind users when a bill is due, and users will never pay the same bill twice as the status will be automatically updated.”The plan is to add over seventy billers to the list of services such as including utilities and DTH service providers. Also, once you’ve made a payment on Tez, you’d never have to add the billing organization details again. “The bill pay feature will start rolling out gradually over the next month,” Sengupta said.

The long list of announcements made today at the Google for India event has shed light on Google’s strategy on bringing in growth and looking at the next billion users. It’s taken a 360-degree view of the constraints and limitations that new users connecting to the internet from a mobile device face. Limited or choppy internet, limited storage space on device, slower devices and limited fluency in English, all seem to be addressed through the apps and services announced today. I guess what needs to be done, is educate emerging users of the power at their fingertips.

  • Published Date: December 5, 2017 1:00 PM IST
  • Updated Date: December 5, 2017 2:02 PM IST