Google rolls out more low-bandwidth versions of its products

The products are first available in India, to address the country’s problems with flaky internet connections

Google is rolling versions of popular products like YouTube and Chrome that are specially designed for people who do not have access to high-bandwidth internet. The products are first being introduced in India but are expected to be available in other parts of the world where low-bandwidth connections are prevalent.

The company also introduced on Tuesday a set of tools, called Google Station, which aim to help partners set up public Wi-Fi hotspots. Google joined last year with Indian Railways and RailTel, a provider of telecom infrastructure, to offer Wi-Fi at 400 railway stations in India.

A number of companies have tried various technologies to popularize the internet among India’s masses, including using text messaging on feature phones as a way to access information. Facebook introduced its Free Basics, a selection of services designed for low-bandwidth internet, but that move ran afoul of regulators and civil rights groups, who saw the social networking company as promoting a few websites, including its own, at the expense of overall access to the internet.

The low-bandwidth version of YouTube, called YouTube Go, is the latest avatar of the product as Google tries to provide access to its video-sharing site to users in India and other emerging markets. In 2014, Google launched YouTube Offline, so that users could download and watch video. A variant, Smart Offline, was launched in June with a feature that allowed scheduled saving of videos during times when data is cheaper, such as at nights.

Google said Tuesday it has started testing YouTube Go, which it describes as a brand new mobile app “completely reimagined for the next generation of YouTube users.” The app will provide short previews of videos before downloads, let people choose their resolution when saving or streaming videos, and also allow them to share videos with others using Bluetooth. The product will be available only in India to start with.

Some of the low-bandwidth technologies that Google has developed for India have found use in other markets. Its offline version of Maps, called Maps Offline, which lets users download a map to their phone to navigate around town even without a data connection, is in use in those areas of the U.S. and Europe where data connections are patchy.

Google is also offering later this year in India a localized version of the Google Assistant in its Allo messaging app. Instead of communicating in English, the voice-controlled AI tool will now converse in Hindi. This development is also in line with Google’s strategy in India and some other emerging markets, where it hopes that offering local language tools and content will help popularize the internet in both urban and rural markets.

On Tuesday, Google also announced new bandwidth-saving features in Chrome for mobile and Google Play.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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