While carriers in the U.S. are racing to add 5G coverage to their networks, today India’s largest wireless provider announced a new device designed to bring 4G service to potentially millions of users with the “ultra-affordable” Jio Phone Next.
Announced today at Reliance Industries’ (Jio’s parent company) annual meeting, the Jio Phone Next will be a joint project between Jio and Google (who invested $4.5 billion in Jio last year) to help bring an affordable 4G phone to the more than 300 million people in India who are still using slow 2G networks.
Similar to other affordable phone efforts from Google like its Android One and Android Go programs, the Jio Phone Next will run an “extremely optimized version” of Android, while also sporting what’s said to be a “fast, high quality camera” and a display with support for HDR. Other features in the Jio Phone Next are said to include support for a voice assistant along with an automatic text-to-speech and built-in language translation features.
Unfortunately, the Jio Phone Next’s price won’t be revealed until its official launch date on September 10, but the phone is expected to cost well under $100 and possibly as low as $50 depending on its final specs and configuration. So while the phone does sport somewhat chunky bezels and doesn’t seem to include more premium features like a fingerprint sensor, depending on how aggressive Jio gets with pricing, the Jio Phone Next could put some serious pressure on other low-cost phone makers like Xiaomi and others.
According to data from Counterpoint Research provided to Techcrunch, despite multiple pushes to make more affordable phones in India, handsets costing less than $100 only account for 12% of Indian smartphone sales, which is actually a decrease from 18% in 2019 and 24% in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of sub-$50 phones sold in India only accounts for 0.3% of the market.
Additionally, to help support the Jio Phone Next, Google CEO Sundar Pichai also made a virtual appearance at Reliance’s meeting and said that Google will help provide regular Android updates for the Jio Phone Next along with “feature drops” that could be similar to what Google does for Pixel phones.
So even though we don’t know yet how long Google and Jio plan to provide updates for the Jio Phone Next, with Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani saying the Jio Phone Next will be “the cheapest smartphone by far in India and around the world,” Jio’s ultra-affordable handset could be an important device to help bring the internet to tens of millions of underserved people in India and other countries in the future.