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In the developed world, almost everyone has a smartphone. In just a short amount of time, they have reached a level of near ubiquity. But what about the other five billion? Those who live in the far-east, or in the Indian subcontinent, or Sub-Saharan Africa?
Meet Android One. This is the latest project from Google to bring inexpensive mobile computing to the developing world, whilst simultaneously offering an experience that is consistent with that of high-end smartphones. The Android one program begins with three phones that have just launched in India: the Karbonn Sparkle, the Micromax Canvas A1, and the Spice Dream Uno.
With three phones now available and more in the works, how exactly is Android One going to dominate the budget smartphone market?
Quality Phones For All
When Android was first launched, it had a quality control problem. Whilst the likes of HTC had released some quality launch devices, like the HTC Desire and HTC Hero, there were countless other devices that didn’t quite meet Google’s high standards — either due to inadequate hardware or heavy-handed Android skins. This deluge of terrible devices lead to Android being perceived as lacking the finesse and polish that Apple is renowned for.
This was because Google lacked control of both the hardware and, to a lesser degree, the software. This is in direct contrast to Apple, who has control over every aspect of the iPhone, and Microsoft, who has set strict standards for devices running Windows Phone software.
Not wanting to see a repeat of history, Google has moved to ensure that all Android One devices run pure Android, get updates straight from Google, and have certain minimum specifications. This has lead to all three launch devices coming with pretty meaty specs, including:
A quad-core MediaTek processor clocked at 1.3Ghz
1GB of RAM
4GB of storage
A removable 1700mAh battery claiming “all-day” battery life
A MicroSD card slot
Front and rear cameras (2MP and 5MP respectively)
Built-in FM radio
Additionally, the fact that these devices run pure Android 4.4.4 KitKat with guaranteed quick updates for at least 2 years puts them in a whole new category — and it means that they’ll be receiving the upgrade to Android L later this year.
Previous budget devices often had bogged down, old versions of Android and never saw an update from Google in their life. The ability to directly control the software and the updates allows Google to stomp out fragmentation and keep these devices running fast, secure operating systems.
And the best part? These devices are retailing between 6,299 and 6,499 rupees (between $103 and $107). They are available both in brick-and-mortar stores and from popular Indian retailers like Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.
Why Should You Get Excited About Android One?
Android One democratizes the Internet. It puts the combined knowledge of the world into more hands, and into more eyeballs. With more people online, sharing their thoughts and ideas and collaborating together, we can finally hear the voices of the other five billion people on our planet who do not own smartphones.
Although Google is going to benefit massively through the Android One program, they ought to be commended for it.
And Android One isn’t stopping in India. Google also announced on their blog that they’ve partnered with Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and Qualcomm to bring more Android One phones of various sizes, colors, and hardware configurations to the developing world.
Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are next on Google’s list; Android One devices should be on sale in these countries by the end of the year, with even more countries coming in 2015.
But Isn’t There Another Phone OS Doing This?
Mozilla’s Firefox OS project has similar aims. Similarly to Android, it runs on a Linux-based architecture, has an app store and a developer community, and is being backed by one of the largest technology companies in the world. Interestingly, it can run on a device costing just $25, making it undercut the cheapest Android One devices by a significant margin.
Likewise, Microsoft is also hoping to get Windows Phone 8.1 devices on some budget devices. In Russia, they have partnered up with a number of hardware manufacturers and dropped their licensing fee, which has resulted in a range of Windows Phones being sold for around $100. This competes directly with Android One on price.
Although, I’m not sure I favor their chances. Windows Phone 8 hasn’t really taken off, and is still struggling to increase and retain their meager market share. Likewise, Firefox OS is still very new, and very formative. Although there is a lot of enthusiasm both by consumers and by the development community, it remains to be seen if it can compete with Android. Can Firefox OS still exist in a world with Android and its massively expansive developer ecosystem, and with Google’s limitlessly deep pockets? I’m not sure.
It will also be interesting to see how Android One impacts other Android hardware manufacturers who make budget Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Y and or the LG Optimus L7. This project directly threatens their existence, as it offers an arguably higher quality product for a similar price.
Will You Be Getting An Android One Phone?
Android One phones are beautiful. They’re cheap. They’re running pure Android, and they’ve got decent specs. They are really something to get excited about.
But what do you think? Are you an Indian consumer with plans to get one? Or are you thinking of buying into the Firefox OS or Windows Phone ecosystem? Let me know. The comments box is below.