On its 18th birthday, Google announced a series of new products customised for India's growing number of Internet users and aimed at expanding its reach across the country.
Spearheaded by a new YouTube app and the Google Station public Wi-Fi project, the new offerings are primarily geared towards faster and more affordable Internet access. They have been inspired by and draw upon the lessons from the tech giant's recent initiatives in India, such as the free Wi-Fi project at railway stations.
"Our goal has not just been to help more Indians get online — but also to help Indians create the online experience they want; one that serves their needs and enables them to have an impact on the entire world," Caesar Sengupta, Vice President, Next Billion Users division said. "So we have been thinking about how to build products and services for this wave of new users — products that work for any level of connectivity, in local Indian languages, and across the devices that are most frequently used in India."
"Our goal has not just been to help more Indians get online — but also to help Indians create the online experience they want."
India represents a big opportunity for the company for several reasons. It is the world's fastest-growing market. Only one-third of its population has access to the Internet, leaving tremendous room for growth. A lot of today's announcements are tailored to these requirements, especially linguistic barriers, slow Internet speeds and high data costs. According to the company, three Indians come online for the first time every second. However, a majority of first-time smartphone users in India are on 2G connections and English is not their first language.
Yet, Google also highlighted the importance of India in innovating products and features that could be replicated across the globe. "Building for India and other countries where the next billion Internet users are coming online not only improves their experiences," Sengupta added, "it gives us better ideas that work for everyone." For instance, the offline version of Google Maps was first introduced in India, and then introduced in the US and Europe.
"Over the last year, we have noticed something important about improving our products in India: it makes them better for everyone around the world," Google's India-born CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in The Economic Times today. "In an increasingly mobile-first world, India gives us early insights into the future of the Internet."
Here are the key announcements from Google.
A year after Google announced an ambitious project to provide free Wi-Fi connectivity to 400 railway stations in India, the company said it plans to bring high-speed Internet access to cafes, malls and universities through a public Wi-Fi initiative called Google Station.
As part of this, Google will give partners -- they could be universities, organisations or business venues -- the software tools and hardware guidance to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces and monetise them. "With Google Station, we aim to bring fast, affordable Wi-Fi to millions of people," Caesar Sengupta said. Rolled out this January, the Google-Railtel project now includes 52 stations and 3.5 million users across India, with 15,000 people coming online for first time every day through these stations.
Google's new app YouTube Go is aimed at being data efficient and promoting offline usage. Users can monitor their data usage by previewing videos before they decide to watch or save them, and choose video resolution. The app will also allow for videos to be saved and viewed without buffering on slow connections. Finally, it also adds a social experience to YouTube by letting users send and receive downloaded videos with people nearby through Bluetooth without using any extra data. The app will be first rolled out to a select number of users who have registered for early access here.
YouTube Go was designed and built from the ground up with insights from India."
"YouTube Go is a brand new app to help the next generation of users share and enjoy videos," Johanna Wright, YouTube Vice-President for Product Management said. "YouTube Go was designed and built from the ground up with insights from India, in order to bring the power of video to mobile users in a way that is more conscious of their data and connectivity, while still being locally relevant and social." Wright and her team travelled to 15 Indian cities to find out how YouTube worked on slower connections and less-powerful mobile phones.
YouTube Go builds upon existing features such as YouTube Offline, which let users download videos for offline viewing and Smart Offline that allowed users to schedule downloads during off-peak night hours when data was cheaper.
Allo's Google Assistant in Hindi
One of the main features of Google's new messaging app Allo is the artificial intelligence tool Google Assistant, which answers questions and suggests smart responses to messages in a chat. Launched in English, the Assistant will soon be rolled out in Hindi. The app will also get Indian stickers to further localise the messaging experience.
The announcement is part of Google's move towards localising its products in Indian languages. The company revealed it had seen a tenfold growth in local language queries over the last 1.5 years. It also said that online content consumption in Hindi was growing five times the rate at which English content was consumed.
Faster 2G browsing on Google Play
Google's app store will now enable faster browsing on 2G and other low-bandwidth connections, by pre-loading the most popular parts of the store over Wi-Fi so that these can be viewed quickly on slower connections. When a user chooses to install an app, Google Play will also offer a "Wait For Wi-Fi" option, to let you install apps only when the phone is connected to Wi-Fi.
Google Chrome's Data Saver mode
Google introduced several improvements to Chrome for Android. First, its Chrome Data Saver mode has been expanded to reduce the amount of data used by the browser. It now supports MP4 videos, which can help users save up to 67 percent data and as much as 330 TB every month. In addition, Chrome on Android will now let users download web pages, music, videos and pictures on their phone for offline viewing. It will also automatically optimise pages to their essentials on slow connections so that they can load faster and use 90 percent less data.
Lite mode for Google News
Google has also added a "Lite mode" to its Google News and Weather App that uses one-third the data of the main app by simplifying the contents. The mode will be automatically activated on slower connections.