Google officially launched its Android One program to bring smartphones to emerging markets and potentially tackle fragmentation in the process. Is it the right plan to get the internet into the hands of those without?
For some of us, it's impossible to imagine a day without our smartphone. Most of the world, however, doesn't even have access to one. At its 2014 I/O conference, Google announced its plan to change that with Android One, a program that will bring smartphones to emerging markets.
On Monday, September 15, Google officially launched its Android One initiative in India. Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and Apps wrote in an official blog that Android One is seeking to tackle three specific problems faced by emerging markets:
- Expensive entry-level hardware.
- Limited access to latest Android software.
- Sparse 3G and 4G networks, and expensive data plans.
The first wave of phones are coming from Micromax, Karbonn, Spice, and MediaTek, and are available at retailers starting at 6,399 Indian Rupees (roughly $105 US). The phones will have features such as high quality cameras, expandable storage, dual SIM cards, a replaceable battery, and built-in FM radio.
Android One devices will receive automatic OS updates from Google. Although the devices will launch with Android's latest version, Kit Kat, they will be among the initial devices to receive the Android L update later this year. According to Gartner vice president Ken Dulaney, that's a big step forward.
"This is a reference design that essentially will mean that updates get delivered more quickly like Apple," Dulaney said. "This has been a big problem for Google. So, this was developed to make some of the products more directly competitive with Apple in this area. [It] should be very popular."
Pichai said that hardware partners will "be able to create customized experiences and differentiate their devices without having to change the core software." This could mean that Google is working to get a handle on the rampant fragmentation issues that Android is facing.
"Android One's strategic value to Google is in lessening fragmentation in the Android ecosystem," Forrester vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder said. "If low income consumers use forked Android, Google services (like search, the cash cow) don't always work. Android One will offer a standard version of Android that's compatible with Google's services -- good for users and for Google."
There is still the chance that fragmentation isn't the main play here as, toward the end of the post, Pichai mentioned that they expect to see more hardware customization options and alluded to the possibility of additional customized software experiences.
However, if Google does end up using Android One as a vehicle to push against fragmentation, the consistency of user experience and rapid updates could be enticing to enterprise customers, according to Dulaney.
The announcement also mentioned that many other major carriers have joined the Android One program, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and Qualcomm.
"With the full backing of Google, Android One can become a more important product in various wireless carriers' portfolios," Gownder said. "However, we must remember that there is sometimes a reverse effect in play: Wireless companies want to sell engagement, but they don't always want to be selling Google's services. Perhaps they want to sell local services (e.g. specific to the Indian market) or their own services."
Regardless, Gownder said, the Android One initiative will offer users in developing countries access to quality handsets that will increase access to key internet tools and services at a low price point.
Pichai's blog post said that the plan is to bring the Android One program to Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka by the year's end. He noted that Android One will launch in additional countries in 2015.
According to the BBC, there are no concrete plans for an Android One launch in the West, but Pichai did not fully rule it out.