Speaking recently at “Google for India” event in Delhi, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a team of Google product leads outlined the latest steps in the company’s strategy for bringing more Indians online and giving them a great experience when they get there. The announcements ranged from a January launch date for free WiFi in Railtel stations to new training programs for two million new Android developers over the next three years that make it easier for Indian developers to build solutions to local problems.
Pichai laid out Google’s three-step approach to promoting the Internet in India, and his team, many of them visiting from the U.S, talked to the concrete steps Google has taken to help solve the current challenges.
“Mobile has proven to be a great equalizer, giving access to computing to a billion more people and counting. But there are fundamental questions around how to ensure a truly inclusive, open Internet for everyone,” said Pichai. “We are here to talk about our journey — about where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we are going to help everyone get as much from the Internet as you and I have.”
First, Google aims to give people in India and other developing countries better access to the full Internet through better connectivity and high-quality software.
- Google is working with Indian Railways and Railtel to launch RailWire Wifi, providing free WiFi in train stations. Mumbai Central will be the first to go online in January 2016, with 100 more on the way. Marian Croak, Vice-President of Access Strategy & Emerging Markets, said, “Railways are the backbone of Indian transportation and run through the heart of almost every city, town, and village uniting the country. These lines connect India, and working as partners, Google and RailTel will connect India along digital lines as well.”
Second, Google is making Google products work better for Indians.
- The “lighter” version of Search results and webpages have been a success, with much faster loading times and increased traffic for publishers. Tamar Yehoshua, Vice-President of Product Management for Search, said, “We take the responsibility of connecting people with the information they need and recognize just how much this can make their lives better in big and small ways.”
- Google has created a new virtual keyboard that makes it easy to type in 11 Indian languages.
- Google recently launched a feature in Google Maps called Offline Maps that allows real-time navigation of roads and searches for locations without a data connection. Jen Fitzpatrick, Vice-President of Product Management for Google Maps, said, “Offline Maps is a feature we expect to be useful around the world, and countries like India will truly benefit when it comes to accessing Google Maps with expensive, slow or limited connectivity. In fact, India is one of the top five countries that has the most people using Offline Maps today.”
- Google also worked with the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India to add panoramic imagery of 250 Indian monuments, including Hampi and Mahabalipuram, to both the Google Cultural Institute and Google Maps.
- Last year YouTube launched an offline feature in India to help people watch videos without a connection. At the event, Eyal Manor, Vice-President of Engineering for YouTube, announced an additional feature that will let videos buffer while they are paused for those on limited bandwidth. Manor said, “We believe that every person should be able to experience YouTube at its best: in high quality, with few delays and limited buffering.”
- In the first quarter of 2016, Google will release a feature called Tap to Translate that allows the instant translation of any text on the Android phone. Caesar Sengupta, Vice-President for Google’s Next Billion initiatives, said, “Our most active users in India translate between Hindi and English multiple times a day, spending lots of time copying messages from friends or colleagues, translating them, writing responses, translating their responses, and then pasting them back into an app. With Tap to Translate you can copy text anywhere on your Android phone and instantly get the translation, right then and there — without ever leaving the app. No more copy/paste, no more app switching, just instant translations.”
Third, Google wants to make it easier for Indians to build on top of Google’s global platforms like Android and Chrome to build solutions to local problems.
- Google announced a program to train two million new Android developers over the next three years by working closely with more than 30 universities across the country in partnership with the National Skill Development Corporation. Jason Titus, Vice-President of Engineering of the Developers Product Group, said, “We’re already seeing incredible growth in the number of developers in India, and our forecasts indicate that this is growth is not going to slow down anytime soon. At Google, we’re committed to providing access to tools that empower developers to be successful.”
- The Chromebit, a small device that turns a monitor into a computer, will be available in India starting in January, meant to help boost computing in the education sector.
- Google pointed to one example of an Indian company, Flipkart, that is taking advantage of some of the latest technologies that are being built in to the Chrome platform for a better experience for Indian users. Flipkart’s new “progressive web app” built for mobile uses Chrome to create an experience that adapts to the user’s phone and the speeds of the mobile data network.
To open the event, Rajan Anandan, Vice President of Google in India and Southeast Asia, helped explain both the promises and challenges of bringing the country online. “By 2018, more than 500M users will be online in India, from all 29 states, speaking over 23 languages. But in 2020, over 30% of mobile internet will still be from 2G connections. Google has been on a long journey in India to build products that connect more people, regardless of cost, connectivity, language, gender, or location,” Anandan said.