This year is being billed as pivotal in recent tech history for a variety of reasons. Some are touting it as the year of the smartwatch, while others have it down as the year of face-worn gadgetry thanks to the likes of Facebook-owned Oculus VR and Google Glass. But in the near future, it may also be remembered as the point at which smartphones became incredibly cheap, with chip maker ARM suggesting that in the next couple of months, an Android handset could break the sub-$20 mark.
Very recently, OnePlus — the leader of which was an integral part of Oppo — announced a high-end smartphone names OnePlus One with incredible specs, and a price that not even Google’s economically-priced Nexus range could compete with. But even though, at $299, the OnePlus One seemingly offers greater value than just about anything currently available at the top-end of the spectrum, such a price tag is still well out of reach to certain developing markets.
It is in these economies — with less disposable income to spend on luxuries like smartphones — that companies can secure strong sales of cheap handsets. But even though some devices can already be picked up for $25 or thereabouts, ARM believes that there’s one last price wrung to reach.
Following the emergence of a $20 Android handset in "the next few months," ARM believes that it simply will not be possible for manufacturers to go any lower. Unless there’s a marked change in the manufacturing process, mass producing a device for around $25 is already difficult enough, and once we’ve seen the competition for the low-end market push prices through the $20 barrier, it’s likely to hit a plateau.
As you might have guessed, the device won’t be much to write home about. With a single-core Cortex-A5 processor and EDGE data capabilities, this is bog-standard, no-frills smartphoning at its rawest, but for the price, the fact that it turns on, makes calls and browses the Web must count for something.
As well as the OnePlus One and this as-yet undiscovered handset carrying the flag for cut-price smartphones, Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone effort is in full swing. With prices set to start at $50, the build-your-own-handset tactic could really pay off in emerging markets where whole-device upgrades are not so common, and eventually, Ara could well tap into the portion of the smartphone demographic currently occupied by these $20 devices.
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