Google’s Android One platform was originally designed to provide low-cost Android devices to developing markets without the stuff that usually comes with low-cost Android devices: bloatware, competing services, and a crippling lack of software and security updates. Now, according to a report from The Information, the program is about to make its way to the US market to help solve those problems.
Android One phones have historically been produced by companies you probably haven’t heard of, like Micromax, Cherry, and QMobile. Originally Google had a direct hand in detailing what components would go into the phone, but apparently became more flexible over time and eventually expanded the program beyond India to parts of Africa, Spain, and Portugal.
Android One may not have been the rousing worldwide success Google was hoping for, but it’s still an important initiative for the company. Especially at the low end, there’s a lot of incentive for manufacturers to pile on extra software in a bid to make those devices more profitable — but that could cut against Google’s efforts to make its own services more pervasive and popular. As Efrati points out in his report, Huawei recently opted for Amazon’s Alexa assistant instead of Google’s on its phones (The Google Assistant isn’t yet available for non-Google phones), which apparently caused some tension between the companies.
Cheap phones need updates, too
Google also has a stake in ensuring that as many Android devices as possible are upgraded on a regular basis, not just for features but also for security updates.
If Google really does put some real effort behind Android One, it could make its plans for Android a little clearer. Google itself has taken a stand that it wants to make its own hardware at the high-end of the smartphone market with the Pixel, and if The Information’s report is accurate, it wants to ensure that its services are not cut out from the low end. Whether that leaves enough breathing room for partners like Samsung is another question — but it doesn’t seem especially likely that Google’s Pixel is going to out-sell the Galaxy lineup anytime soon.
Google should be so lucky as to have that kind of problem right now — the more urgent issue is ensuring a consistent experience in the low and midrange of Android products, where software quality varies wildly and software updates are all too rare.
Although Google itself probably won’t produce Android One phones for the US, we don’t yet know what manufacturers will make them — but apparently LG is one possibility. The phones are reportedly due “before the middle of the year” and will be backed by lots of marketing money from Google.