Google unveils new Android software in India to power cheap smartphones

This file photo shows logos of US technology company Google displayed on computer screens on November 20, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2017
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Google unveils new Android software in India to power cheap smartphones

MUMBAI: Alphabet Inc’s Google launched a stripped-down version of its Android software in India on Tuesday, as it attempts to woo millions of basic phone users in the fast-growing wireless services market.
The Android Oreo Go operating system can work on entry-level smartphones with the memory of as low as 512 megabytes, Google said on Tuesday, adding it expects devices running on the software to start hitting store shelves in the coming months.
With 1.2 billion mobile phone subscribers, India’s wireless services market is second only to China’s. But, only about a third of these subscribers currently use smartphones, leaving a vast market for Google, handset, and telecom firms to further tap.
Although prices of smartphones have fallen sharply in the last few years with Chinese and local phone-makers flooding the market with cheaper handsets, they remain out of reach of a section of customers who are also concerned about a smooth user experience in low-priced phones.
“The new lighter operating system, if it works well, will likely attract first-time smartphone buyers to devices retailing in the $30 to $75 range,” said Shobhit Srivastava, an analyst at technology researcher Counterpoint, adding that it would also give Google the opportunity to cross-sell other services like its local payments application Tez that launched in September.
Phones running on the new Google mobile operating system will also have access to a special version of its Google Play application store, the company said, highlighting the apps designed to work best on the low-memory smartphones.
Google, which has increased its focus on the Indian market in recent years with initiatives including providing free wifi services at railway stations, is competing with the likes of Facebook and its WhatsApp messenger services for the attention of hundreds of millions of new Internet users.
Even for those 400 million or so already connected to the Internet in India, consumption of mobile data has seen a huge spurt following the entry of a new carrier Reliance Jio, backed by the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani.
Jio up-ended the market with initially free and later cut-priced offerings that forced established rivals to slash their prices. Jio currently offers plans that allow users to download up to 1 gigabyte of data per day for less than $3 a month.
Among other products, Google announced on Tuesday a version of its Google Assistant for JioPhone — a low-cost 4G-enabled device marketed by Jio.
It also unveiled a version of Google maps tailored for two-wheeler users.


Google chief trusts AI makers to regulate the technology

Updated 40 min 33 sec ago
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Google chief trusts AI makers to regulate the technology

  • Tech companies building AI should factor in ethics early in the process to make certain artificial intelligence with “agency of its own” doesn’t hurt people, Pichai said
  • Google vowed not to design or deploy AI for use in weapons, surveillance outside of international norms, or in technology aimed at violating human rights

SAN FRANCISCO: Google chief Sundar Pichai said fears about artificial intelligence are valid but that the tech industry is up to the challenge of regulating itself, in an interview published on Wednesday.
Tech companies building AI should factor in ethics early in the process to make certain artificial intelligence with “agency of its own” doesn’t hurt people, Pichai said in an interview with the Washington Post.
“I think tech has to realize it just can’t build it, and then fix it,” Pichai said. “I think that doesn’t work.”
The California-based Internet giant is a leader in the development of AI, competing in the smart software race with titans such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Facebook.
Pichai said worries about harmful uses of AI are “very legitimate” but that the industry should be trusted to regulate its use.
“Regulating a technology in its early days is hard, but I do think companies should self-regulate,” he said.
“This is why we’ve tried hard to articulate a set of AI principles. We may not have gotten everything right, but we thought it was important to start a conversation.”
Google in June published a set of internal AI principles, the first being that AI should be socially beneficial.
“We recognize that such powerful technology raises equally powerful questions about its use,” Pichai said in a memo posted with the principles.
“As a leader in AI, we feel a deep responsibility to get this right.”
Google vowed not to design or deploy AI for use in weapons, surveillance outside of international norms, or in technology aimed at violating human rights.
The company noted that it would continue to work with the military or governments in areas such as cybersecurity, training, recruitment, health care, and search-and-rescue.
AI is already used to recognize people in photos, filter unwanted content from online platforms, and enable cars to drive themselves.
The increasing capabilities of AI have triggered debate about whether computers that could think for themselves would help cure the world’s ills or turn on humanity as has been depicted in science fiction works.