Google changes gears on its India mission

Google changes gears on its India mission

Google has always been aggressive with rolling out its products in India – probably influenced by the fact that the CEO and many of the product heads are Indian. So it has been kind of disappointing that many of its hardware products like the Google Home, Chromebooks, and Google Wifi has not yet hit the subcontinent. Amazon, which has been equally determined to own the market here surprised a few when it launched its Echo line of smart speakers here shortly after their aggressive rollout of Prime Video and the FireTV stick. But this has only exasperated those that have been waiting for Google to respond.

And we have been getting teased now and then by the good folks in Mountain View.

We reported in December last year when the Google Home app offered a few Indian news sources, and subsequently we have also seen some other indications that finally led to the announcement yesterday that Google was having a hardware event in India on the 10th of April. Various sources mention that this event would launch not only the Google Home and Home mini, but might also include the PixelBook – a premium touch screen laptop that runs ChromeOS.

This had to happen. The launch of the first Pixel phone in 2016 formally indicated that Google was now serious about being in the hardware space too. And while their hardware has generally been well received by the critics (except for couple of misfires like the PixelBuds, or Google Clips), they have not sold in the scale that would put them in with Apple, Samsung, or even Amazon. I am guessing Google doesn’t want to be known as a niche hardware manufacturer.

The US market also has some other challenges, especially with phones. Most phones there are sold by the network providers, and not bought directly by the customers like here in India. So if we had a similar model in India, you would get your Galaxy S9 from say Airtel for just about Rs.15,000. But then you would also pay a monthly phone bill of about Rs.3000 for two years. Of course, for better or worse, the Indian market doesn’t work like that and customers directly deal with the phone manufacturers like Samsung or Mi (or retailers like Flipkart, Amazon or Croma) to purchase their phones. So arguably its easier for Google to sell phones in India than in the US since they do not have to negotiate and deal with the mobile network providers. That is why it was again not surprising to hear news of a possible mid-tier Pixel phone designed just for India.

Chromebooks are also a product line that have not been pushed by Google in India yet. This is a market where laptop sales are growing, and with the explosion of really affordable 4G services now, this is the right time to make the push for Chromebooks too. I am hoping the overpriced Pixelbook (which will not sell here just like it didn’t in the US) at least paves the way for the many affordable Chromebooks that are being offered by the leading hardware vendors like Asus, Lenovo, and HP.

Let’s wait till the 10th to see what pricing strategy Google has for its hardware game. In any case, it’s clear that Mr. Pichai is just revving up the engines and would want Google hardware to race ahead in home market. This is one race I would be following closely. Stay tuned.

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