Google’s India-born chief Sundar Pichai on Thursday said the prices of entry-level smartphones in India need to come down further to around USD 30 to improve access to the Internet and digital services for people.
Pichai, who was speaking at his alma mater IIT-Kharagpur, said the focus is also on areas like local language support and improving connectivity in India as the country becomes a global player in the ‘digital economy’.
“I would love to see cheaper smartphones, entry-level smartphones. I think to really we need to bring the prices down even more, maybe at USD 30 level (about Rs 2,000) for India for entry level smartphones,” he said addressing an audience of 3,500 students and teachers.
In 2014, Google had launched its ‘Android One’ programme, partnering with handset makers, to launch high-quality, yet affordable Android devices for consumers in emerging markets like India. A few handsets were launched with partners like Micromax, Karbonn and Spice.
The devices launched that time were priced at Rs 6,399 onwards, but since then many more affordable smartphones with better specifications have hit the market.
Currently, there are smartphones available even for sub-Rs 1,000 but most of the aspirational devices are priced above Rs 3,000. Pichai said the company has also been able to roll out many programmes for Digital India through “effective public-private partnerships”.
He cited examples like partnership with RailTel for offering wi-fi services at railway stations and with NPCI for digitising payments.
When asked about by when India would be able to catch up with China on the digital front, Pichai said he is confident that India will be a global player in the digital economy.
“I think I am absolutely, with full certainty, convinced that India will be a global player in the digital economy and it will be competitive with any country in the world in the digital economy. We have all the foundation,” he said.
He added that the startups in India, that is building products for India and the world, will ensure that happens.
Stating that connectivity is “extraordinarily important”, Pichai said Google is also working on a number of projects like Internet Saathi to educate people on Internet, especially in rural areas, as well as to get them online. Besides, Google is also working on making its services available in as many local Indian languages as possible.
“English is spoken only by a small segment of the overall population. So just getting Google to work in other languages is a big focus”.
“We have made progress on Thursday in Android, with search, we support many languages but we want to do all that better so that it works even in rural situations with the right dialects and so on,” he said.
Google bets big on artificial intelligence
Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning can make huge difference to everyday life and Google is investing in bringing these to “as many people and as fast as possible”, its India-born chief Sundar Pichai on Thursday said.
“We are making a big bet on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Advancement in machine learning will make a big difference in many many fields,” Pichai said at his alma mater IIT Kharagpur campus on Thursday, while chatting with students.
He pointed out that the ability of computers to do tasks like image recognition, voice recognition or speech recognition, are reaching a tipping point.
“So, we are definitely at a point of inflexion,” he said, adding that Google is investing a lot in this space and if the investments are sustained over a few years, it will pave the way for the next wave of computing.
Pointing out to a paper published by Google recently, Pichai said machine learning can be used to detect diabetic retina, which can cause blindness if treatment isn’t administered on time.
“This is an early example of the kind of changes that will happen when you apply machine learning to all kinds of fields. Google alone won’t do this. What I am excited about is bringing machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to as many people and as fast as possible,” he said. .
Pichai said that at Google, the aim is very high and the criterion is building technology that will apply to the lives of billions of people.
On India, he praised that the PPP model has been working well and the company is a big supporter of the Digital India campaign.
“To really make Google work in India, you need to make it available in as many languages as possible. English is spoken by only a small segment of the population,” Pichai said adding Google has progressed but wants to work more in rural conditions and in the right dialects.
To improve access to digital world, he said he would love to see cheaper smartphones hit the market.
“You really need to bring the prices of entry level smartphones down at around 30 USD,” he said adding connectivity is also extremely important.
He described India as the most dynamic internet market in the world and the second largest one.
“When we built for India, we built for the world,” he said citing the YouTube offline feature which is now available across 80 nations.
In the next 3-4 years, Pichai expects there will be big software companies coming out of India.
When asked by students, he said “You can build for a global market from India.”
Pichai said he is convinced that India will become a global player soon.
“I am confident that it will compete with any player in the world. It is growing well as a country and will take few more years,” he said when asked to comment on whether India can take on China.