While Apple pats itself on the back over its set of bigger, premium smartphones, Android has been sharpening its focus on budget handsets for emerging markets.

Now Google has announced that its low-end device, the Android One, launched today in India. The company, which first divulged plans back at the Google I/O developer conference last June, has enlisted Taiwanese chipset maker MediaTek, maker of low-cost mobile processors. 

Chips Ahoy!

“Our goal was to develop high quality smartphones at an affordable price, with access to connectivity, done at scale around the world,” Android chief Sundar Pichai previously told the BBC

To simplify and streamline the production process, he said, Google will offer original equipment manufacturers a set of predetermined hardware options for the GPU (graphics processing unit), storage capacity, battery type, camera and CPU (central processing unit, or processor). 

The latter officially gets a new option: MediaTek’s MT6582 Mobile System-on-Chip (Mobile SoC). This processor will be a key offering for budget smartphone partners, which include Micromax, Karbonn and Spice. 

The Taiwanese company’s SoC (so-called because it crams the equivalent of an entire computing system onto a single chip) is based on somewhat recent quad ARM Cortex A7 processors. While that’s not a cutting-edge CPU delivering the height of performance now, it’s a fairly recent model that still provides a better experience than you might expect from a low-end smartphone. 

But When The Chips Are Down…

Unfortunately, MediaTek chips suffered some bad press this summer, thanks to an odd hack that emerged. 

MediaTek chips are extremely common in countries like China, and Chinese tech site GizChina picked up a report last June about some MediaTek-based Android phones being vulnerable to a remote reboot attack via a simple SMS message. 

According to a blogger named “Korben” (link in French), the symbol “=“ was actually part of MediaTek’s chipset language, meaning “shutdown and reboot.” (To see him demo the hack, click here.)

It’s not clear yet whether this exploit has been addressed, or if it will affect the 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6582 SoC chips in the new Android Ones. 

“Android One” May Soon Be Many

Overall, the first Android Ones from Micromax, Karbonn and Spice offer a few decent specifications. 

The new phones will sport 4.5-inch screens, 1GB RAM, two cameras (5 megapixel rear, 2 megapixel front), quad-core MediaTek processors, dual-SIM slots and microSD expandable storage, as well as FM radios. The devices also support various languages, including Hindi, and Google Play Newsstand will provide local publications. 

The Android Ones have now opened for availability in India today, with a starting off-contract price of Rs 6,399 (roughly $105 USD). In addition to Micromax, Karbonn and Spice, and chipmaker MediaTek, Google also announced partnerships with other phone makers and hardware vendors, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic and Xolo, as well as chipmaker Qualcomm. 

With these deals, the tech giant hopes to see a variety of bargain Android Ones in different display sizes, colors, hardware specs and custom software.

Beyond India, Google plans to extend Android One to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (covering Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014, with other markets to follow next year. 

Google has released a promo for the Android One (below). Oddly, the spot shows very little of the phone or its features, so for more information, check out the company’s blog post

Lead photo from Google promo video, screenshot by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite. Android One product shot courtesy of Google.