Google Missed Out on China. Can It Flourish in India?

At an event on Tuesday in New Delhi, Google unveiled its most ambitious India-focused product so far — a new version of its Android operating system and related apps designed for low-end smartphones. The package will include YouTube Go, which allows users to easily download and share videos with their friends, and Google Go, a variant of its search engine that helps users find information by tapping the smartphone screen instead of typing a query.

“We have to figure out how to build the right products for them,” said Caesar Sengupta, the Google vice president who oversees Next Billion Users, its unit dedicated to creating products for emerging markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia. “This is a very high priority for Google.”


A cellphone store in Jodhpur. While India is a surging market, many new users have only basic phones, which have difficulty running certain apps or storing videos.

Rebecca Conway for The New York Times

Many of the new Indian users have basic phones, which make it difficult for them to run certain apps or to store big files like videos. Data plans are limited, and despite a telecom price war that has cut the price of a megabyte of data by as much as 97 percent, some customers are unable to afford more data when they run out.

Google’s Android software and apps like the Chrome browser, Maps and YouTube are often included with smartphones. But Facebook also makes products that vie for the attention of Indian consumers and advertisers.

In fact, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram — all Facebook products — occupied three of the top six spots this year when the research firm App Annie measured how Indians spent their time online.

Arjun Vishwanathan, associate director of emerging technologies at IDC India, said that search, Google’s core expertise, was “culturally not that important to Indians.”


New Google features for Indian consumers. “We have to figure out how to build the right products for them,” an executive of the company said. “This is a very high priority for Google.”

“Where Google scores is its ability to keep it simple and keep it convenient while letting the consumer decide what she wants to do without being in her face,” he said. Google also has vast amounts of data about its users that can be valuable in developing new products and…

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