During Google I/O earlier this year, one of the more important announcements – at least from a business perspective – that Google glossed over, was Android One. A new initiative from Google to help budget smartphone buyers get access to the latest version of Android sooner than ever before. The idea was a pretty simple, yet important one for Google; the search giant would partner with local phone vendors in emerging markets, provide help from a software and hardware perspective, and launch devices that were affordable, but didn’t compromise on software features. This leads us to today’s launch of Android One in India, with local vendors Micromax, Karbonn and Spice all launching similar devices as part of the first wave of Android One devices.
While the three new devices all share their similarities, this is more about software and how having the latest version of Android is going to make a difference to customers. It’s also an incredibly smart business move on Google’s part, with India being the second-largest mobile market in the World today, they’ve set themselves up for some serious growth thanks to Android One. With prices as low as RS 6,399 – with that being the Karbonn Sparkle V – Google have set up an economy of scale in India, with consumers no longer needing to sign on the dotted line to get new software or even a decent handset experience altogether. Pichai himself told the BBC that “Our goal was to develop high quality smartphones at an affordable price, with access to connectivity, done at scale around the world,” he told the BBC ahead of the launch in Delhi.” and he went on to say that their partners were given a menu of sorts, “We provide our OEMs a menu, effectively. They can choose the CPU [central processing unit], the GPU, the storage, the type of battery, the type of camera.”
To that end, the three devices from Karbonn, Spice and Micromax all have 4.5-inch 854 x 480 displays, similar quad-core CPUs, 5-megapixel rear-facing cameras and other shared specs. However, these have been dubbed Google’s “minimum” requirements to become an Android One device, which includes select branding on the handsets themselves, and of course ensures speedy updates.
This sort of pick and mix approach to building these new devices will no doubt be what will keep Android One devices fresh, with select hardware easier to target software updates for, rather than having a massive variety of differing chips. Sure, the specs inside these new devices aren’t the best out there, but they will provide first-time smartphone buyers a more-than pleasant experience and more importantly, not expose them to the poor update system that’s currently inplace throughout India and other emerging markets. Manufacturers can still customize their devices though, through software add-ins like built-in apps, but Google is putting their foot down when it comes to modifying the core Android workings, insisting that this is the only way to ensure timely software updates.
This is of course, more about Google getting in to India than it is helping their partners. With Google signing a deal with Airtel, a large network in India, which excludes Android updates from a customer’s data allowance and also provides them with 200MB extra to download apps from Google’s Play Store. The search giant has also customized some of their apps for the Indian market, with railway bookings and Indian cricket scores coming to Google Now and 13 local news outlets featured in Google’s Newsstand app.
This is just the beginning for Android One, as Pichai has told the BBC that even more OEMs have joined the program, counting Lenovo, Acer, HTC, Asus, Panasonic and Alcatel among Android One’s new members. Android One is an important move for Android in general, and will further Google’s presence in the mobile world, far beyond the Americas and Europe, into new areas that will prove lucrative over the next decade so.