American tech giant Google and Indian oil-to-internet conglomerate Reliance Industries—which joined hands to build ultra-affordable 4G smartphones for Indian users last year—will roll out the much-awaited device during the upcoming festival of Diwali in early November.
Dubbed JioPhone Next, the “made-in India smartphone features premium localized capabilities and is on track to launch in the market by Diwali,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet, said in the earnings call with analysts on Tuesday. He expects first-time smartphone users to drive demand for JioPhone Next.
“The pandemic has been hard. But through it all, people are looking for access, and there’s definitely been a wave of people who have adopted smartphones,” he said. “We see demand from people looking to shift from feature phones to smartphones.”
Jointly developed by Reliance and Google and customized for Indian users, JioPhone Next will be powered by Pragati OS—a mobile operating system based on Google-owned Android OS, the Mumbai-headquartered conglomerate said earlier this week. These devices will be assembled at facilities operated by Neolync, a two-year-old electronics manufacturing startup, in which Reliance invested INR 200 million (USD 2.6 million) in August 2021. Reportedly, it will be priced at around INR 3,499 (USD 46).
In July 2020—when India was fighting with the first wave of COVID-19—Google and Reliance entered into a commercial agreement to work on entry-level smartphones with optimizations to the Android OS and the Play Store. At the same time, the California-headquartered giant invested USD 4.5 billion in Reliance’s digital arm Jio Platforms for a 7.7% stake out of its USD 10 billion India Digitization Fund.
“India still has nearly 300 million mobile users who are unable to escape from inefficient and exorbitant 2G services because even a basic 4G smartphone remains unaffordable for these users,” said Reliance Industries chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani at the group’s 44th annual general meeting earlier in June. “Therefore, an ultra-affordable 4G smartphone is essential to make India 2G-mukt (2G-free). JioPhone Next will be, by far, the most affordable smartphone not just in India but globally.”
Hailing it as a “breakthrough smartphone,” Ambani said, JioPhone Next is packed with cutting-edge features like the Google Assistant, automatic read-aloud of screen text, language translation, and a smart camera with augmented reality filters.
Notably, Reliance onboarded Qualcomm as a strategic investor on the cap table of Jio Platforms in July 2020, strengthening its ties with the chipmaker—with which it has had a long-standing partnership across 4G VoLTE and 5G technologies.
JioPhone Next is built on Qualcomm chipsets, and Reliance’s close relationship with the US-based semiconductor giant is likely to help Ambani achieve his vision of an “ultra-low-cost” smartphone.
Pichai expects JioPhone Next to create a lot of impact over the three to five years time frame, as the phone is aimed at bringing affordable access to information for Indians in their own language and will open up new possibilities for millions of new users who will experience the internet for the very first time.
“Overall, India, just like the Asia Pacific, continues to be an exciting market for us. We see strength across the categories we are involved in. And so you’ll continue to see us stay focused there,” Pichai said during the earnings call.
This is not the first time either Reliance or Google is attempting to disrupt the Indian smartphone market. However, Reliance’s telecom arm Jio Infocomm—credited for disrupting the country’s internet market by rolling out dirt-cheap data plans in late 2016—hasn’t been very successful in the smartphone space. Although it had launched budget 4G devices six years ago, it failed to make its mark. On the other hand, Google had launched AndroidOne, a lightweight OS for low-end devices targeting emerging markets such as India in 2014, but it too failed to deliver.
With Reliance and Google teaming up and gearing up to debut the co-developed 4G devices in the Indian market, the duo is set to disrupt the smartphone market, which is currently dominated by Xiaomi, Samsung, RealMe, and Vivo.