Creo, the Indian startup that recently received $3 million in funding to create a new twist on Android, has unveiled its first smartphone, called the Mark 1. A promotional video has been posted, but the company hasn’t released hardware details yet. Founder Sai Srinivas tells TechCrunch that leaked specs cited in some reports are inaccurate, but emphasizes that Creo won’t compete on hardware.
Instead, its ambitious goal is to release regular updates to its Android skin that are so unique, Mark 1 users will feel like they “get a new phone every month” (the company’s marketing slogan).
India is now the second-largest smartphone market in the world after China. The Mark 1 is launching at a tough time for Indian smartphone makers, however, as they battle competition from foreign companies. For example, New Delhi-based Micromax was the top smartphone brand in India last year, but that position has been supplanted by Samsung. Xiaomi and Lenovo are also aggressively wooing Indian consumers—even though both companies are based in China, they each opened a smartphone manufacturing plant in India last year.
Creo will manufacture its own devices, too, but Srinivas believes that “hardware is no longer a differentiator.” So far, Creo’s software-centric approach has been backed by Sequoia India, Beenext Ventures, and India Quotient, which participated in Creo’s first funding round.
“Everyone else boosts the same hardware, cameras, processors. There’s no point in doing that anymore,” Srinivas says. “That’s why we believe our philosophy is very, very valid, because at the end of the day, the user is not going to see the hardware. They will see the software and the more the user can get from the software month after month, the more attached they will be.”
The Mark 1’s software features will focus on enhancing its caller experience, device security, app performance, and cellular data management.
“A lot of things can be done very, very well from the OS layer, but not the app layer, that enhance user experience,” Srinivas explains. Creo’s developers will rely on feedback from its users in order to determine what will be included in each month’s updates.
That tactic is similar to the community-based approach that Xiaomi and Cyanogen take to create their Android skins. Srinivas says that the comparison is “very valid,” but adds that Creo’s strategy will be different because it isn’t interested in making changes to Android’s user interface.
“In fact, you will notice that we will stick as close to Android’s stock UI as possible. The idea is to build functional features that no other smartphone has. We will introduce features that MIUI or stock Android and even Cyanogen don’t have.”
Many of the Mark 1’s software features—especially the ones for saving data—are meant to appeal to the Indian market. In fact, Creo’s founding team previously worked on another hardware startup, Mango Man, that created a HDMI dongle especially for India. Creo’s goal, however, is to create an OS that it can license to international hardware manufacturers. After India, it will focus on expansion in Southeast Asia before finding partners in other countries.
The Mark 1’s price won’t be disclosed until India finalizes changes to its tax law. Srinivas says it will be mid-range–more than the sub-$100 smartphones that are helping build India’s smartphone market, but less than $400.