Taking a page from the Nokia playbook, Google this morning officially launched its Android One initiative, with its partners offering the first $100 Android smart phone offerings in one of the biggest emerging markets of all, India. The initiative is aimed at expanding the world's most dominant smart phone platform to the bigger but more cost-conscious markets of people who can't yet afford such devices.
Google first announced Android One at its Google IO conference in late June. Then as now, the search giant used language very similar to that used by Nokia when it introduced its Android Open Source Project (AOSP)-based Nokia X devices in February, noting that it was targeting "the next billion users." For Nokia, this effort was an attempt to find a strategy that could save the company. But for Google, it's about shoring up its already dominant position in the market and ensuring that this dominance continues as smart phones reach more and more of the planet.
"By working closely with phone and silicon chip makers to share reference designs and select components, we're making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable," Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai notes in a post to the Official Android Blog. "With Android One, we not only want to help people get online, we want to make sure that when they get there, they can tap into the wealth of information and knowledge the web holds for everyone."
Android One is starting today in India with hardware partners such as Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and chipmaker MediaTek, Google notes. It will then expand to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of the year, with more countries to follow in 2015. Over this time, many additional partners, including Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and chipmaker Qualcomm will come on board.
What's most striking about Android One aside from the pricing on the devices—a bit under $105 for the initial devices—is that the on-device software is "stock" Android, that is, the same bloatware-free version of Android that Google sells on its Nexus devices and on a handful third-party Google Play devices. That is, these aren't stripper AOSP handsets, they offer the "full" Android experience with the full set of Google apps and services.
They also offer a standard set of features thanks to a set of common reference designs and components. Some of these features include:
Affordable. In markets like India where the average monthly income is about $250, a normally priced smart phone is an impossibility. Even a $105 design like the initial Android handsets is a huge outlay for many in such markets. Some of the phones come with 200 MB of free data per month for the first six months.
Two cameras. Each Android One handset has both front- and rear-facing cameras.
Expandable. All of these devices can be expanded with a microSD card, dual SIMs and a replaceable battery.
Always updated. Because they are essentially Nexus devices, all Android One handsets will immediately get the latest Android versions and updates directly from Google.
So how big is the potential market? Google says that 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smart phone. And while reaching "the next billion users" sounds like a laudable goal, the real target is the over 5 billion people worldwide that do not have smart phones. 5 billion.
"Most people are only able to make simple voice calls, rather than connect with family through a live video chat, use mapping apps to find the closest hospital, or simply search the web," Mr. Pichai notes. "We want to bring these experiences to more people."