Originally conceived as a way to bring Android to emerging markets, Google’s Android One efforts have floundered. But the firm keeps trying, and this week it announced that it will bring Android One to the mainstream.
Those who still mourn for Windows phone and were critical of Microsoft’s strategy of spamming the market with barely differentiated low-end Lumias will appreciate what’s happening here. As I noted back in 2015, Google, like Microsoft, failed in attracting much interest for their low-end smartphones in emerging markets.
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In Microsoft’s case, it sold far fewer phones than it expected, and the average selling price (ASP) per unit was far lower than ever before at the time (which, frankly, it should have expected). This failure played a key role in Microsoft’s exit from the smartphone market, which it also announced in 2015.
By comparison, Google’s failure with Android One was less damaging to the company, given its dominance of the smartphone market. So Google has kept Android One limping along since then, and it is always on the lookout for those next billion users.
What’s changed since 2014, I think, is that natural market forces—like lower component costs and ever-maturing technology—have made it possible for Google and its partners to deliver full-featured smartphones at affordable prices even in even emerging markets. Likewise, expectations in these markets have risen over the past three years. And while feature phones will likely limp along for a few more years still, smartphones are very clearly the future.
So where Android One was previously about bringing down costs almost exclusively, Google is now changing the program. Now, Android One is about delivering a pure Android experience via third party handsets. It is, in effect, the smartphone version of Microsoft’s Signature PC line.
“We’re extending our commitment to Android One by working with more partners to build phones that run a software experience designed by Google,” Google vice president Jamie Rosenberg explains. “In the past year, we’ve expanded the program to new partners, geographies and price points. Today, our newest program partner Xiaomi just launched Mi A1.”
Described as “a great example of what Android One represents, a collaboration between Google and its partners to deliver a software experience designed by Google,” the Mi A1 is no throwaway phone. It features an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of expandable storage, a “flagship” dual camera system, and a 5.5-inch 1080p display. It’s available in black, gold, or rose gold, and costs just $235. It will be available in dozens of countries, including India, Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam and Taiwan, Google says. It’s a gorgeous looking device.
So with this change, Android One becomes just pure Android.
That is, all Android One phones will provide what Google calls “a pure Android experience with a clean design and a small, carefully curated set of preinstalled apps,” optimized Google Assistant experiences, and Google Play Protect security. As important, upgrades are guaranteed: Android One devices will receive “timely upgrades” to the latest Android OS, Google says. And the Mi A1 specifically will receive an upgrade to Android Oreo before the end of the year; next year it will also be one of the first devices to receive an upgrade to Android P.
I like this change quite a bit, but then I’ve always like Signature PC as well. It’s the right way to go.