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India a hotbed for next-generation smartphones on the cheap

Mikael Ricknäs | July 1, 2014
India has become the battleground for a new generation of low-cost smartphones, with Google, Microsoft and Mozilla all hoping to lure new users onto their platforms and services.

Google's OS competitors aren't going to let the company have this market to itself, though. Mozilla Foundation and chip maker Spreadtrum have developed a reference platform of their own, and partnered with Indian vendors Intex and Spice to launch ultra-low-cost Firefox OS smartphones in the next few months, they said earlier this month. Spreadtrum said the phones could cost just $25.

The reference design Mozilla and Spreadtrum have developed lets Intex and Spice build phones with a 3.5-inch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an FM radio and a camera.

Firefox OS is built around applications written in HTML5, and Mozilla has been pitching it as more open and better suited to low-end smartphones than Android or iOS. Products based on the OS have been on sale for about a year, mainly in Europe and Latin America, without much success.

Microsoft is also hoping to improve Windows Phone's fortunes via its own partnerships with Micromax and Karbonn.

In April, Microsoft announced Windows Phone would be available for free when used on smartphones and tablets with screens smaller than nine inches, making it easier to develop low-cost devices. The inaugural products for this push in India will be the Canvas Win W092 and the Canvas Win W121 from Micromax. They will start shipping in July and cost $110 and $160, respectively. Both models have 8GB of integrated storage, 1GB of RAM, two SIMs and are powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor from Qualcomm.

The Canvas Win W121 also has a 5-inch HD screen, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. Buyers of the cheaper Canvas Win W092 will have to make do with 800 by 480 pixels on a 4-inch screen, a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is continuing to push Nokia's Android-based X family, as well. Last week, the company launched the X2, which will start shipping in July.

Nokia's X family was launched in February. It combines Android code with an interface that looks a lot like Windows Phone and Microsoft services such as, Skype and OneDrive.

To make a dent in Android's dominance, Microsoft has to partner with more phone makers and Mozilla needs to prove that $25 smartphones offer a good user experience, said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. Currently, Android has more than 80 percent of the Indian smartphone market.

"It will be very difficult to take market share from Android," Gupta said.


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