Android One hits the UK with Karbonn Sparkle V launch

The UK has its first official Android One launch with a Karbonn device, despite Google's lack of interest in bringing the platform to developed markets.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

The UK has become the latest country to get Android One handsets.

The Android One-powered Sparkle V will be one of four handsets by Indian manufacturer Karbonn to launch on Amazon today.

Karbonn is hoping the Android One device will appeal to price-sensitive consumers and those making the move from feature phone to smartphone. The Karbonn Sparkle V will be priced at £129, or £99 as part of a Black Friday promotion on Amazon, pitching it against stiff competition from the likes of the Moto G, Microsoft's Lumia 635, and a range of other Android devices from smaller makers.

The Android One platform, launched in September in India, sees Google taking the reins of both handsets' hardware and software. With Android One, Google offers manufacturers a reference design for a device that should retail under $100, alongside a stock version of Android 4.4. While Android One can't be customised, it does come with two years of guaranteed updates to the OS and a promise that new iterations, such as Lollipop, will hit Android One phones first.

The OS is aimed at improving the experience of lower-end Android handsets, and helping Google to counteract the trend for cheaper devices to be sold with, and remain on, older versions of Android. In India, Google struck a deal with Airtel, the country's largest mobile operator, to make Android updates zero-rated – that is, downloading a new OS won't be counted against a user's data allowance.

Among the hardware specs that Google stipulates for Android One devices are expandable microSD storage, quad-core processor, and dual SIM cards. All three of the Android One models released so far – including the Sparkle V now available in the UK – come with 4.5-inch displays, 1.3GHz Cortex A7 chips, 4GB of storage expandable up to 32GB, dual SIM, 1700mAh battery, and a two-megapixel front facing camera and five-megapixel equivalent.

So far, three Indian hardware firms have produced Android One handsets - Karbonn, Micromax, and Spice – and targeted them chiefly at the local market.

Android One has not found the momentum in the Indian market that Google might have hoped. According to the Times of India, a number of India's largest chains including Croma and Future Group aren't stocking any Android One models after manufacturers initially sold them through online-only channels such as Amazon. The paper also quotes one retail exec as saying the margin on the devices was too low to be worth bothering with.

Google's local head of marketing told the Hindu that it is looking to launch new devices at different price points, bringing Lollipop to Android One devices first, and stepping up its marketing efforts.

At the time of Android One's launch, head of Android Sundar Pichai said Google had no plans to bring the platform to Western markets, favouring launches in developing countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines in 2014. Google has not announced any rollouts outside of India, however, and there has been no apparent support from Google for Android One's arrival in the UK with Karbonn.

According to IDC's most recent figures, Karbonn has around nine percent of the Indian mobile market. It's the third largest mobile seller in the country, though has recently lost ground to second place Micromax.

The UK is the third European market where Karbonn's Android one handsets have gone on sale after Romania and Spain. A French and Italian launch are planned for next year.

Three other Karbonn phones are being launched in the UK today alongside the Sparkle V: the Titanium S6,  the  A19 and the A5S. All are low-end KitKat Android smartphones, with prices starting from £49.

All four of the Karbonn devices will be sold only via Amazon until the end of the year, after which time it's likely they'll be sold through retailers and operators as well.

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