Google looks beyond Jio for more telco and OEM partnerships in India

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Image credit: Google

Google said that it is open to partnering with more telecom operators and handset companies in India to develop smartphone offerings similar to JioPhone Next to address customer requirements.

“Nothing is off the table … we will be expecting more partnerships like the one with Jio hopefully as we find more gaps in our portfolio in the market. Hopefully, we will have more announcements over the next few months,” Ram Papatla, general manager and engineering lead in India for Android told reporters on Thursday at the sidelines of the company’s “Google for India” event.

“What we are trying to figure out is to solve market needs by ourselves at Google, or can we have the power of compounding by working with a local partner,” he added. “That’s a framework we are approaching … the evaluation criteria for partnerships is mostly based on problems that Google wants to solve for India.”

On its partnership with Reliance Jio, he said that the framework for the JioPhone Next partnership was to primarily bridge the affordability gap for smartphones in India. Additionally, the aim was to make certain smartphone benefits simpler and bundle them with Jio’s network and services to make the phone “interesting”.

“We also work with Jio very closely to make sure we are collectively going out to the same benefits for all users,” he added.

Google and Jio not only co-designed the JioPhone Next but also developed the Android-based Pragati OS that powers the smartphone. Pragati is a Hindi language word which means ‘progress’.

Papatla said the new OS is merely an extension to Google’s own Android operating system and comes with features and optimizations that are specific to the JioPhone Next.

In addition to tie-ups with carriers and device makers, Google is also looking to work with developers, terming them “extremely important” in addressing specific requirements in India. To further give a push to Android development, Google has established a dedicated team in India for the operating system.

“The pandemic has further accelerated the demand for smartphones in the country. We are going to think deeply about the experience of first-time users coming on board for smartphones, whether it’s their experience in retail or moving their contacts from a feature phone to a smartphone – which is a very painful process – or how they navigate on the device and what their first seven days look like,” he added.

MSME partnerships and more

Meanwhile, Google also announced a slew of new product features and partnerships on Thursday aimed at extending the benefits of India’s growing digital economy to more people.

Google said it has joined hands with the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) to launch a $15 million financial assistance program, enabling Indian micro-enterprises to take advantage of loans at competitive interest rates.

Google also announced the launch of 100,000 scholarships for Google Career Certificates collaborating with NASSCOM Foundation, Tata STRIVE, and SafeEducate, who will help in identifying underserved learners across the country for free enrolment to a Google Career Certificate of their choice.

In addition to these initiatives, Google said that its payment service, Google Pay, will come with new industry-first features such as speech to text and Hinglish as a preferred language.

The company also launched a Google Assistant-enabled, end-to-end vaccine booking flow that will guide users through the process of booking a vaccination appointment on the COWIN website with voice guidance in English and eight Indian languages at each step.

Google said that it has worked closely with the Indian government’s COWIN to enable this integration, where even a relatively new internet user will now be able to easily book a vaccine appointment. This feature will be available in Chrome on Android, and will begin rolling out in early 2022.

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