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Cellphones Android Google Handhelds The Almighty Buck Hardware Technology

The Realities of a $50 Smartphone 141

An anonymous reader writes: Google recently reiterated their commitment to the goal of a $50 smartphone in India, and a new article breaks down exactly what that means for the phone's hardware. A budget display will eat up about about $8 of that budget — it's actually somewhat amazing that so little money can still buy a 4-4.5" panel running at 854x480. For another $10, you can get a cheap SoC — something in the range of 1.3Ghz and quad-core, complete with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS radios. A gigabyte of RAM and 4 gigabytes of storage can be had for another $10 or so. Throw in a $2.10, 1,600 mAh battery and a $5 camera unit, and you've got most of a phone. That leaves about $9 to play with for basic stuff like a casing, and then packaging/marketing costs (some of which could be given freely, like the design work.) Profit margins will be nonexistent, but that's less of an issue for Google, who simply wants to spread the reach of Android.
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The Realities of a $50 Smartphone

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  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:06PM (#50323403) Homepage Journal

    Design a $100 phone, and don't sell it through channels that will take a cut, and don't tack on any profit for yourself.

    Sure, it's a good deal for the consumer, but kind of weird to act like this could be a business strategy or that there is really any new technology going into it. Charging half as much by not taking profits isn't exactly revolutionary.

    • by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:10PM (#50323423)
      Google wants to make money off advertising. Plus, if they can become the standard in a huge emerging market, that's playing the long game.
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by OrangeTide ( 124937 )

        Don't talk to me like I don't understand. My point was that I don't think it's smart business, not that I didn't understand the business model.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          The real value, "Power To The People". All people chatting all over the world, the less people will be dying as a result of exploitation, whether war, terrorism, labour abuses, suppression of democracy or of course, racism and prejudice. A healthy, happier more stable global society makes for much better opportunities for good business. Sure it is more insanely profitable to ruthlessly exploit people and feed you ego in doing so but that psychopathic idea unlimited greed is just a sickness that is destroyi

    • You ignored the hardware cost curve. That phone might be zero margin today, but over its market lifetime (maybe three years) the hardware cost will fall more than 50%, providing a comfortable margin on average.

      • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @05:29PM (#50323783) Homepage Journal

        As an original developer for the Kindle, I can say with some authority that I know how zero and negative margin mobile devices work.

    • Hell BLU has a nice Windows phone for $54 now [] and it comes with a 5MP camera with flash and MicroSD support up to 32Gb. They also have an Android with JB and 5MP with flash for $58 [] and I seriously doubt they are losing money on each sale so I really don't see the big whoop.

      If it works as well as my BLU $100 Studio Mini [] they are sweet phones as mine has been rock solid stable, takes great pics, gets good battery life, easy to root (took 3 minutes using SuperRoot), just really nice phones.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      the article is pretty funny when there's already phones going there.

      nokia x was selling for about 70 bucks give or take, 1.4 years ago. I bet they could have pushed it to fifty.

      and I don't know where you learnt about mobile phone business but 100 dollar phones don't have fifty bucks of profit - there's just too much competition to rake in that kind of money, unless you're an american mobile phone operator and find some very stupid people to sign up to plans where they pay you 100% profit on a phone they thi

      • $100 retail price - $50 manufacturing cost is not $50 profit. Since I intentionally did not describe all the other costs associated. A normal OEM of course will want to mark the phone up a bit before selling it through channels. The distributor will deal with import/export. And whole sale it to retailers. And retailers will display them in stores. Usually with a contract with the OEM to buy back unsold products. It's not a uniquely American model, and notice I never mentioned carriers. (carriers become the

  • Privacy and Security
    • by rainer_d ( 115765 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:16PM (#50323449) Homepage
      And updates.
      Oh wait, they don't even get delivered to $500 phones in time.
      And few people care.
      I bet the car-industry has wet dreams about the status-quo of security in the mobile handset industry:
      No more recalls, no more consumer-advocate groups calling them out. No law-suits.
      • by jiriw ( 444695 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:41PM (#50323557) Homepage

        Possibly these $50 phones will get better security update support than most $500 phones-with-hardware-vendor-goo. Simply because the operating system on these will be provided directly by the operating system manufacturer (Google) and by contract no vendor-goo will be allowed.

        My phone got pretty much every update between 4.0 and <current release> and I expect to receive updates promptly for quite some years to come. By the way (if you didn't get enough hints), this phone (and my phone of choice) is a Nexus...

        There is only one other significant party in the smartphone market that has the same edge... but the phones they make are too locked down for my personal taste. So I only use those when I have to... at work for testing purposes. (I write app software for both iOS and Android.)

        • It will be interesting to see if Google provides these with timely updates, too.
          And for how long.
          Personally, I just don't trust Google (or any other company) where ultimately the user of the product isn't also the primary customer of the company.
          The same situation ultimately ended up costing Microsoft a lot of money and good-will. They didn't care about users as a long as OEMs - their primary customers - shoved the product onto as many of their customers as they could get their hands on.
          That worked well
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            And for how long.

            Since most of it is on a virtual machine abstracted from the hardware I'd say just as long as for other models.

          • I get high security from a $50 windows phone.

            It's just not worth it for people to develop virii for the 123 phones in use.

            Seriously... I use a Lumia 521 windows phone. I might go back to android or iphone (had both) but it's cheap and it works. So I might buy a newer phone soon since I dropped mine a couple weeks ago for the 10th time or so and I have a crack. And ... lol, I put that clear packing tape on it and the screen works as good as ever so I'm taking my time.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The smartphone world is going nowhere unless it becomes more open. Until you can download an operating system and install it on any smartphone, the update situation won't get significantly better. A firmware construction kit like Android isn't going to cut it. ARM needs to set a standard for discoverable hardware.

      • To be fair, screwing up a car is far more likely to put someone's life at risk, so recalls are more important there.
    • That's a feature!

    • If your name is Rahul Patel you don't need privacy because there are about a million other guys with the same name who you can blame for what you have done.
  • by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:08PM (#50323411) Journal [] $40 smartphone. it is on sale i realize that but the same website has many smartphones under $50. are they efforts to get Americans to buy root-kitted phones is the only thing i wonder about.

    • Best Buy has a whole section [] for phones less than $50. Some of them are on clearance, but not all of them.
    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
      Yeah, but that phone's got even worse specs than TFA's. 512mb of storage and RAM? That's gotta be an awful experience.
    • I got my kid a $40 smartphone last month. I certainly wouldn't buy one for myself, but as a virtually disposable, entry-level unit, it's fine. People are talking like there is a race to this particular price level, but everybody still racing has already lost.
  • by Wdomburg ( 141264 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:09PM (#50323417)

    I'm actually using a $50 smart phone right now. A Microsoft Lumia 635 that I picked up on Amazon for $49.99 off-contract. Specs are about right - 4.5" 854x480 screen, 512MB ram, 8GB storage, no front camera, 5MP rear camera. It does have a quad-core Snapdragon instead of a Mediatek or Allwinner, but clocked at 1.2GHz, and actually does have an LTE radio and Gorilla glass (the two reasons I bought this instead of the 535, which is newer and has 1GB of RAM).

    Know what? It's a perfectly serviceable phone. I bought it as a spare to use while I get the screen on my Moto G replaced, and in a lot of ways I actually like it better. Windows Phone actually runs surprisingly well on modest hardware.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Microsoft should pay you $100 for buying that garbage.
      • by scream at the sky ( 989144 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:50PM (#50323595) Homepage

        Have you ever used Windows Phone 7 or higher?

        I bought an HTC HD7 ages ago, my only intention was to learn how to use it, in order to sell it, and then flip it a month later. Greedy commission salesman, and such.

        I used it for 2 years, and replaced it with a Lumia 1020 when it died through no fault of it's own, gravity is a cruel mistress.

        I cannot stress this enough, I *loathe* Microsoft, I have been a Debian user since 2001, until I bought a Mac in 2012, and I am still using that 1020, daily, because it just works.

        No, there aren't as many "apps" for it, but the apps that I give a shit about are all there, web browsing, messaging, maps, email, twitter, facebook. And they just work, easily.

        Microsoft got Windows Phone right.

        • by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @05:06PM (#50323667)

          Microsoft got Windows Phone right.

          That may be (or not) but Microsoft's brand has negative value. Nobody buys Microsoft except by force.

        • by Kenshin ( 43036 ) <> on Saturday August 15, 2015 @05:42PM (#50323833) Homepage

          I agree. Microsoft got Windows Phone right. The OS is excellent

          They were just years late to the party, decided to go home and change their underwear the moment they got to the party (the WP7 vs WP8 fiasco), found out they didn't actually have any friends (app developers) at the party, and they brought a prostitute (Nokia) as their date.

        • Except for the maddening transitions that take up so much fracking time and the lack of web browsers that aren't just alternative UIs for IE. Or the ugly single pallette tiles that block your background or the gigantic fonts that make browsing the phone and reading the headings a pain.

          • I'd rather just have IE on windows phone then any browser I've ever tried on android. Chrome, Firefox, I've tried many different ones, and none of them holds candle to IE.

        • I hear Windows Phone is indeed a nice OS. That's great, more competition to the mobile OS landscape and all that. My only problem with it is that Microsoft has been trying to unify mobile and desktop in one OS since Windows 8 and that's lead to a horrible, IMO, desktop Windows.
          Call me silly, but I can't willingly use Windows Phone. I'm that pissed off at MS.
      • That's ridiculous. A manufacturer paying a consumer for a product they buy willfully and enjoy using more than a competitor's product that cost almost four times more?

        Go away, troll.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      yea I have had a couple 50$ smart phones, paid up front no commitment just swapped sim cards

      they suck, but they function well enough, so whats the big fucking deal, damn thing was still faster than my desktop PC 10 years ago

  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:14PM (#50323431) Homepage Journal

    That BOM missed the $60 for patent licensing from the 3G pool.

  • ... And it works great. Stop buying the bleeding edge Apple 26 or the Galaxy XXIV and you will realize 99% of your apps work just fine on a budget smartphone. It even has removable memory and a card slot. The ONLY negative is a the camera quality is low.
    • I still prefer my method of getting a free hands-me-down iPhone from family and friends. My current one is an iPhone 4 that had a cracked back. After a bidding war on eBay, I got a replacement back with the tools needed and shipping included for only $2. The funniest part is, I think it's a genuine Apple part because the silkscreen is not level and so it got rejected in QA.
    • by Kenshin ( 43036 )

      I like having a camera that's not a potato.

      • Your phone is probably so slim that you have to encase it in a plastic potato (that costs you an extra $40) just to feel safe carrying it. Wouldn't want it to get all bendy and stuff.

        My Lumia 635 is fairly slim, and has Gorilla glass, so I carry it completely naked. If it gets damaged (not likely) it was only $70.

        • by Kenshin ( 43036 )

          My wife dropped her Lumia 1020, which has a pretty amazing camera, and I had to replace the screen on it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you are OK with buying 10 or more, you can get android 2.3.3 phones for $20 each. They come rooted, carrier unlocked, and work pretty well. The main feature missing is no LED flash for taking picture, but everything else is there.

  • Ten percent of the budget is going to the camera? Could never make a phone without a camera attached... that would be crazy.
    • by Kenshin ( 43036 )

      That's not gonna fly. People are social, and expect a camera nowadays.

      I was talking to someone who ran a photography store, and >90% of the photos they print these days come from smartphones.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Definitely. But there are quite good camera chips for ~$1 in quantity.

    • Heh...when I was growing up *cough* if someone had told me that in the future, every phone would have a super hi-res camera built in to it, we would have figured you were crazy. And if you told us it would also be a 1280x768, 30fps video camera too, we would have known for sure that you were crazy. :)

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        Are they actually hi-res cameras, or just high interpolation? I'm guessing they're mostly the latter.

    • Having a camera built-in to a smartphone is a huge advance (and cost savings) over having separate devices. Your phone becomes a bar-code scanner, webcam, video phone, etc, and the convenience and space saved is significant, too.

      Pretty much everybody uses the camera in their phones. Forcing people to buy it separately is just hiding part of the price, that everyone is going to pay, anyhow. Plus extra overhead for connectors, casings, etc, which add nothing of value.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, $50 buys a lot especially in the world of Chinese smartphones. The Doogee X5 ( will be released shortly, and it will cost $49.99 for the base model. It is surprisingly capable with a Mediatek MT6580 quadcore SOC, 5" HD 1280x720 display, 3G radio, 5 MP camera, etc.. The base model has only 1 GB RAM and 4 GB ROM, but for another ~$8 you can upgrade to the 8 GB ROM version. There's even supposedly a higher-end model that is 4G-capable with a Mediatek M

  • So these are built with slave labor?
    • By slave labor for slave customer
    • Do you mean slaves like chinese people in the Foxconn plant manufacturer (which assembly apple products too)? Playing games since i'm a child (today i'm 32 years old), I have read in magazines and internet that every PlayStation released the Sony has to pay everyone that buy this systems on the release and this could keep for months until the price of hardware and the cost of production goes down, is this slave labor? If this companies don't subsidize some part of price in some products maybe the people c
  • Look anywhere, here []

    Heres a $44 USD phone, same one I bought here in Canada for $49 from walmart.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2015 @05:00PM (#50323631)

    In the 3rd world of USA Walmart! The Lumia 635 is usually less than $50 and quite a decent smartphone, in fact, the only one I use until the 640 came out which is $20 higher and has a display polarizer for sunlight, larger display and a front camera. Did I mention the 635 and 640 are both quad core, LTE devices? Oh yeah, they are.

    • My son picked up a cheap Windows phone. I told him he was crazy. He used it for less than a month and is back on Android. Just as I expected, he hated the Windows phone. Not only the lack of apps, but it was flat out buggy.

      It's not really saving you any money if you have to spend money on a bunch of cheap phones before you find one that actually works! And I know this from experience. :)

  • With specs like that -- the worst of it being the low amount of RAM and the likely extremely slow NAND -- that phone will probably have severe performance problems with many popular apps, even some of the Google apps. I have an old "Android-on-a-stick" device with similar specs from a few years ago that can barely run the Play Store now.

    And I'm not even talking about games. Web browsers, navigation apps, media players, voice assistance, productivity apps, and even shopping list apps have seen increases in t

  • You can get a Coolpad smartphone for one of those pay-as-you-go carriers for 10 or 15 bucks. I don't even know the specs, because I never needed to look. It works just fine. You can also get one for free if you are on foodstamps or other government welfare programs. You can even get one the same day at many sign-up booths outside of social service offices. (BTW, you can sign up with different companies and get like 10 free smartphones.)
    People were talking about this phone on XDAdevelopers because it was so

    • by Scoth ( 879800 )

      You're looking at carrier-subsidized prices. The "free" phone you get for signing up for accounts still costs some amount, often a non-trivial amount. I picked up a $10 Coolpad Arise myself for testing some things, and even though there's technically no contract involved it's still been subsidized by the carrier expecting you to then pay them for service. The $50 smartphone is $50 retail, out the door, full cost nothing added or removed, direct from the vendor.

      This is a bigger deal for developing countries

  • I don't want a smart phone, but I'd sure like a small, rugged reasonably high quality "dumb" phone.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      Using a Samsung dumb-as-rocks phone myself, $12 at Walmart. It's been banged around and nearly crushed a few times and you can't tell it's ever been out of the packaging.

  • What about the extortion fee that other Android phone makers pay?

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?