Google has unveiled the first smartphones to run on its Android One platform, a standard designed to help push affordable smartphones in the developing world. The initiative kicks off in India, where Micromax, Spice, and Karbonn are all selling phones with 4.5-inch screens, 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel main and 2-megapixel front cameras, 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek processors, dual-SIM slots, microSD expandable storage, and FM radios.
Android One devices will ship with support for more languages, including Hindi, and feature more local publications in Google Play Newsstand. Google is also making a special version of YouTube available which will allow Indian users to download videos and re-watch them multiple times without incurring excessive data charges. The first phones are expected to retail for 6399 rupees ($105).
Similarly inexpensive smartphones have been around for a while, but Android One represents a concerted effort from Google to put its stamp on the user experience. These phones will all run close-to-stock Android without heavy manufacturer customizations, and Google will be able to push software updates itself. This should avoid the situation that arose a few years ago in other parts of the world, where low-powered phones were stuck on early versions of Android without any hope of an update, leaving customers unable to access new apps and services. Google has adopted a similar strategy at the higher ends of the market with its Nexus and Google Play edition devices that run stock Android.
Indian customers on carrier Airtel will be able to download software updates, including the upcoming Android L release, for the first six months of ownership. Google and Airtel are also offering 200MB of data a month on top of the regular cap for downloading apps from the Play store.
HTC, Lenovo, and others are signing up
After India, Android One phones are set to make their way to Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal before the end of the year. Google says phone manufacturers including HTC, Asus, Acer, Panasonic, and Lenovo are joining the program, alongside chip maker Qualcomm.
India is the second biggest mobile market in the world, but hasn't yet achieved strong smartphone penetration. As such, it's a major growth opportunity for the likes of Google and Microsoft, which has achieved some success in certain parts of the world with its low-cost Nokia Lumia Windows Phone handsets. Handset makers like Micromax are also producing cheap Windows Phone devices, but with Android One, Google may have found a way to provide a consistent experience on the world's most prevalent mobile ecosystem to a whole new audience.