Why Android One was Google’s most important announcement at I/O

by: Bobby SitukangpolesJuly 4, 2014

google io 2014 keynote (17 of 41)

Reaching out to the next billion connected users is a phrase that has been tossed around liberally.

Mozilla used it when they announced their $25 smartphone initiative. Nokia’s (now Microsoft’s) Stephen Elop used it when Nokia launched the revamped Nokia Asha line last year, and again when he announced the Nokia X. Last year Google used the same phrase as it launched Android 4.4 KitKat.

However, these companies’ efforts are still to leave a mark in the countries where the supposed next billion connected customers reside. Firefox’ $25 smartphones are yet to enter the market, neither Nokia’s Asha nor X line have turned out to be “hot items”, while affordable smartphones running KitKat are still few and far between.

The newly announced Android One program might just be the thing that will turn the dream into reality.

The Nexus line is not the answer

For quite a while now, Google has actually had a product line with the potential to disrupt and take over emerging markets. A $350 Nexus 5 should have been an instant hit in unsubsidized regions, where phones with similar specs often cost more than twice as much. However, Google sells the Nexus line in few markets where it’s likely to actually cause the most disruption.

Google cannot risk upsetting other Android OEMs by making Nexus products available everywhere with their disruptive pricing intact

In many emerging markets, Nexus devices are not available through the Play Store; instead, the phone is distributed directly by LG. In some Southeast Asian countries, the Nexus 5’s retail price is not far from the LG G2, on which it was based, which is close to $600. Even in India, where Nexus devices are sold through the Play Store, the Nexus 5 is being sold for more than $480. Obviously, this blunts the Nexus line’s potential to cause a stir in high growth markets.

While it might seem rather baffling for Google to curb its own product’s disruptive potential, the approach actually makes sound business sense. Since Google had to choose a single OEM partner to produce each Nexus model, Google cannot risk upsetting other Android OEMs by making Nexus products available everywhere with their disruptive pricing intact.

Mediatek is close to pulling it off

Suppose I had to pick one company whose efforts in making smartphones available to the next billion have resulted in more than just lip service, then my choice would be Mediatek.

Mediatek shows that providing integrated reference designs is a good way to reach new users at the entry level.

If you had the chance to spend some time in China, India, or Southeast Asia in the past 24 months, you might’ve noticed that most cheap phones were powered by Mediatek chips. Companies like Lenovo, ZTE, Micromax, or Karbonn, all have Mediatek-powered phones in their low-end and mid-range lineup.

Last year, Research outfit VisionMobile estimated that Mediatek powers more than 500 million mobile devices each year. According to Gartner, Samsung sold close to 300 million smartphones in 2013.

Even if we can’t confirm the accuracy of VisionMobile’s estimate, Mediatek’s achievement shows that reaching the next billion smartphone users is not a wild dream. More importantly, providing integrated hardware/software reference designs is one way to do it.

As we reported earlier this year, Mediatek is offering turnkey solutions that allow companies to leverage their hardware reference designs to bring smartphones to market quickly, without having to invest money in hardware and software development. This enables small companies to sell devices that often have better specs than models from established brands with similar features.

It’s not all rosy in the land of Mediatek devices, though

Most Mediatek powered phones are notorious for being late in getting updates, if any at all

Ever wondered why both the Moto E and Moto G are still considered revolutionary devices, even in markets where similar Mediatek phones, at similar price tags, have been available for a while?

It’s because Motorola is able to offer affordable phones with up to date firmware, smooth UI, and guaranteed timely updates, while most Mediatek-powered phones are notorious getting late updates, if any at all.

This, in part, is due to Mediatek’s own refusal to comply with GNU GPL licensing terms, which makes their source code unavailable for the public.

Furthermore, companies relying on Mediatek’s hardware reference models do not necessarily need to have a robust software engineering capability. Thus, many of them simply do not have the manpower necessary to keep their devices up to date. This problem is so severe, that I often advise people with Mediatek smartphones to simply trade in their devices regularly if they want to stay up to date in the software department.

To be fair, this problem is not limited to Mediatek devices. The issue is also apparent in many low-end and mid-range devices coming from established companies like Samsung or LG.

Android One will change everything

As Sundar Pichai explained on stage at I/O 2014, Google will offer turnkey solutions in the form of ready to use hardware reference designs with hardware from qualified vendors. As I’m sure you’re aware, Google calls this initiative Android One. As we discussed above, Mediatek’s meteoric rise is proof that offering such turnkey solutions is one surefire way to reach hundreds of millions of new smartphone owners.

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What sets Android One apart from similar integrated solutions from Mediatek is the fact that Google’s reference designs will run stock Android with updates coming straight from Google, just like the Nexus or Google Play edition line.

Unlike the Nexus program, Android One is open to any OEMs interested. This will allow Google to bring Android One to as many markets as possible, without risking to alienate its Open Handset Alliance partners. According to Pichai, Google is currently working to bring the first Android One devices to India with three local brands, Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice.

One thing that some tend to forget when talking about new smartphone owners in emerging markets is the fact that these people are aspirational, just like customers in mature markets.

New smartphone owners in emerging markets are just as aspirational as users in mature markets

They want to have a device with up to date specs and software that will give them a refined user experience,  allow them to enjoy the same apps their friends use, and play whatever gaming craze happens to sweep through their social circle at the time.

This is how Android One will change everything.

The program will enable even small OEMs with barebones software engineering teams to offer devices that will give these new smartphone owners the experience they crave for, and, better yet, those devices won’t go out of date six months down the line.

What about the threat of carrier bloatware in Android One devices?

At his I/O keynote, Pichai mentioned that the Android One program will allow OEMs and carriers to provide locally relevant content that the user has full control over.

Some enthusiasts squinted at the idea of giving carriers the ability to add bloat on top of a pure Android experience. This is a legitimate concern. After all, Verizon’s handling of updates on the Galaxy Nexus remains in our collective mind.

But there are many examples of how the carrier’s influence can actually be useful to consumers in emerging markets.

As Pichai cited on stage, in Kenya, Safaricom has a mobile money product called M-Pesa that lets customers send and receive funds using their mobile phones. M-Pesa now has more than 18 million customers, with more than $800 million exchanged every month through the mobile payment platform. Bloomberg’s Charles Graeber noted during his trip to Nairobi that M-Pesa has not only allowed Kenyans to reduce the risk of being robbed on the streets, but also enabled entrepreneurs to build new, innovative businesses based on the product.

Not all carrier additions are bad for the user.

Meanwhile, Indonesian mobile operator XL Axiata has an Opera Mini based internet plan that allows users to browse the web for less than 25 cents a day. In countries where the average monthly income is still less than $200, such solutions can mean a lot. Relevantly, Pichai said Google is working with local carriers to equip Android One devices with affordable connectivity packages.

Since Pichay emphasized that Android One users will have full control over carrier customizations and updates will come automatically from Google, I think there’s little reason to fret over the influence of carriers.

How will Android One devices change the landscape?

Information regarding the specs of the first Android One devices is still scant. We know that initial devices will have 4.5-inch screens, dual-SIM support, FM radio, and microSD card support, all for under $100.

However, we can use what Motorola has been doing as a proxy to get an idea of what kind of specs these devices might come with.

Even by including the cost of hardware and software development, Motorola was able to launch the Moto E for as low as $130 off-contract.

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Assuming that by leveraging the Android One reference platform OEMs will be able to take most of the development costs out of the equation, it’s reasonable to expect sub $100 Android One devices to have comparable specs to the Moto E.

A bit further into the future, constantly dwindling component cost may allow OEMs to offer next-gen Android One devices with specs comparable to today’s Moto G.

Think about it for a minute. In less than 12 months, we could see Android One smartphones with HD screens and quad-core internals, maybe even LTE, for under $100. That means that even folks earning less than $200 a month would be able to enjoy features that even sophisticated consumers in mature markets consider attractive.

If this is not  the very realization of democratization in mobile technology, then I don’t know what is.

  • shivakool

    we dont have carrier problems in india we buy phones for full price carrier subsidy does not exist and we can do what ever we want with our phones and most people use prepaid sim cards

  • Luka Mlinar

    I assume this phone will have some cheap dual core or single core SOC with 512MB of RAM. How’s that gonna work since just about every user i know with a 512MB RAM phone (including me) fights the urge not to throw it into the wall at least once a day?
    Even if the phone turns out to be good, again they are focusing on India and south America yet most of the low income EU country’s like Croatia, Greece, Romania and so on have no access to the Nexus line, Motorola or OnePlus. We are stuck with the overpriced brand names that most people can’t afford.

    • Not necessarily single core. Moto G is quad-core and still pretty cheap. Moto E is cheaper, and dual-core. They both run very smooth If this kind of specs becomes ordinary for Android One phones, you will be able to get a very good mobile experience for a sixth (actually in Italy a seventh) of the price of an iPhone.

      • michaelmicro

        My Moto G definitely has noticable pauses and lags in comparison to my iPhone 5S. I could probably live with the Moto G if I didn’t know any better or couldn’t afford to also have an iPhone, but given the choice, I’m always going to pick the better user experience.

        • Anonymousfella

          Sure there’ll be pauses between opening apps and multitasking if you’re used to a higher-end smartphone, but for many users its all they might need. Hence they massive press it has recieved…

          • michaelmicro

            Absolutely. The vast majority of people out there don’t notice or care. But then, that’s why they’re not on sites like this!

        • Stefan

          But, you can buy 4 Moto G’s at the price of an iPhone 5S (at least where I live), so you can’t really compare them. It’s like comparing a Pentium dual core with an i7. But, amusingly, the screen on the Moto G is arguably better.

          • michaelmicro

            Absolutely. But 4 Moto Gs don’t make an iPhone.

          • William D

            Correct, 4 moto g’s do not make an iphone, 4 moto g’s = 4 iphone 5c’s I would also take 3 moto g 4g lte’s over 1 iphone 5s. My work phone is a 5s and my personal phone destroys it for the $$.

          • michaelmicro

            A Moto G is never going to run iOS, no matter how many of them you have.

          • William D

            Why would you want a moto g to run iOS. A cookie cutter OS , an everybody has the same thing OS is is a terrible thing to be stuck with. =)

          • michaelmicro

            The point is, a Moto G is never going to run iOS, so no matter how many of them you have, the Moto G is never going to be an iPhone as it will always be running a different OS and therefore be a totally different user experience.

  • Shark Bait

    I can partly agree with this article, android one is a very big deal, it essentially opens up the nexus program to players around the world, helping them to make quality and cheap android phones. This could be a significant step for the small players in the game, allowing them to be competitive against the giants whose development costs are less per device. Im sure if this gets the support promised it could be a big deal.
    I would like to see some mid range android one phones launching even in Europe too!
    However as I’ve said before, media tek is cheap crap. The android one strategy is similar, but lets hope its delivered with more quality

    • ermajmoore

      my classmate’s aunt makes $68 every hour on the
      computer . She has been fired for 7 months but last month her paycheck was
      $15495 just working on the computer for a few hours. visit the site R­e­x­1­0­.­C­O­M­

    • daphnewbowden

      My Uncle
      Riley got an almost new red GMC Canyon just by some parttime working online
      with a laptop. visit their website F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • wat

    seems like android one is a plan to get qualcomm cpus selling in low end market where they at current cannot compete with MediaTek

  • Balvinder Makkar

    I have never suggested any of the brands stated above to my realtives or friends.
    I always ask them to stay away from mediatek phones.
    But after watching google io i will surely suggest android one phones.
    Moreoever carrier bloat is not a problem in india as phones sell here for the full price and there is nothing as such subsidizing of phones by carriers here in india.
    There will only be few country specific apps by the manufacturers and no carrier bloat.

    • Sinan Cagrı Kurt

      ı also never suggested mediatek devices Until Someone gave me quadcore mediatek phone for a couple of days.Then I bought one for a hundred dollar.They are much better then any other 100-200$ Samsung LG phones.So Now I do suggest mediatek devices to budget limited friends.But Here in Turkey There is very few mtk devices avaliable.

      • Balvinder Makkar

        Here in india every other local manufacturer is offering mediatek devices.
        Actually its hard to find a qualcomm device in the price bracket of 6000-7000INR( ~120USD) here.
        (expect moto e which is a great device)
        But the problem is that these manufacturers doesn’t put any efforts on software…so even with quadcore mediatek there is lag everywhere.
        Mediatek SocS are not bad but there no optimisation by the manufacturers at the software level.
        With android one that problem will be taken care of.

  • roycektetreault

    My Uncle
    Riley got an almost new red GMC Canyon just by some parttime working online
    with a laptop. visit their website F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • RedBeaVeR

    Indonesia’s average monthly income is not $200. More like $2000. Is there a typo?

    By reading your name, I’m taking a wild guess, you could be Indonesian too… So I expect you to agree.

    • Sinan Cagrı Kurt

      GDP per capiata in Indonesia is something like 2500$ which make about 200$ a montly.If your wage 2000$+ that is your wage not avarage.

      • RedBeaVeR

        Not mine. But for people I know in the capital, Jakarta, post-secondary graduates earn 1,000 to 2,000$… after merely 3-5 years of experience.

        But you’re right, nation-wide average is still ultra low.

        Poor country.

  • michaelmicro

    The commoditisation of the smartphone market is well and truly here. This, sadly, also probably marks the end of the highly innovative period we have been witness to over the last 7 years.

  • Sinan Cagrı Kurt

    Lte under 100$.I dont think it is posiable.isnt lte lisance cost 60$+ ?

  • Haven’t this great article about democratization in ages.

  • Marios Papadopoulos

    They should launch this program in some low income EU countries as well. Here in Greece, the Samsung Galaxy S5 costs about 550 euros on contract, and unlocked it costs 700$ (USD). 550 euros=747 USD.
    Also, many of these budget phones with good price to performance ratio do not come to Greece and the consumer has no good options besides some Samsung phones with 512 MB of RAM and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or even Gingerbread for less than 200 euros.
    Manufacturers do not really care about mine. And this unfortunate because people get poorer and poorer everyday.

    • Marios Papadopoulos

      EDIT: Manufacturers do not really care about countries like mine, which is unfortunate because they would be able to sell more units because of the consumers’ lower incomes.



  • Will S.

    I agree, out of all the things we’ve seen in the I/O, I think Android One will have the biggest reach.

  • Cao Meo

    This is win-win-win-win for customers, small OEMs. MediaTek and Google… Google will have direct control of millions pf handsets in no time… only Qualcomm, Samsung and other big OEMs will be disappointed.

  • At last, Indian brand smartphones will get some updates.

    Name : Prashanth
    Websites : http://www.andro-build.org | http://www.torootandroid.com

  • Evan

    This is true. But there are lots of things to make a user experience better on the whole. Another thing that is quite concerning is about safety. What about the SAR levels and such? The health issues in developing countries already is abundant, there is no need for a cancer-making phones in the market..

  • LeadTheLeader

    Android One was one of my favorite announcements after Android L, such an affordable phone
    Led Lampen

  • Yaritza Miranda

    Nice I wrote a similar article at Led Lampen

  • ziplock9000

    Also the “$350 Nexus 5” when sold abroad does not use established exchange rates. US companies have always done this.

  • guest

    What about the threat of carrier bloatware in Android One devices? – carriers do not have much infuence with mobile purchase in India. You buy a mobile and then use some carrier. Dual SIM would allow using multiple carries plans.

  • jim

    This move by google is very relevant and timely. Im just wondering in the future if there is still a need for people in emerging markets to upgrade to hi-end phones since they can already afford low to mid-range devices that should be enough to suit their android experience. Im curious about the future of high-end android devices still being relevant in the future, if they are still able to grow or just only be a “preference” or just be a “choice” for the consumer altogether.

  • I am curious about the future of high-end android devices still being
    relevant in the future, if they are still able to grow or just only be a
    “preference” or just be a “choice” for the consumer altogether.

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  • Olivier Störmer

    The commoditisation of the smartphone market is well and truly here. This, sadly, also probably marks the end of the highly innovative period we have been witness to over the last 7 years.