Android’s future lies not in expensive, feature-packed smartphones for the tech elite. Instead, it’s all about getting smartphones to the rest of the world.
Google today officially launched Android One, its initiative for cheap-yet-high quality smartphones for developing countries. The program is debuting in India with three cheap devices starting at around $105 off-contract, and the company is also planning to expand the program to Indonesia, the Philippines, and the rest of South Asia by the end of the year.
While high-end Android devices will be a mainstay among gadget geeks, there’s a much bigger opportunity for Google in focusing on the more than 5 billion people worldwide that currently don’t have smartphones. After getting its hooks into those potential consumers early, Google will likely be able to make them lifelong customers.
Cheap Android devices have already helped the platform dominate smartphone market share (85 percent of smartphones shipped in the second quarter ran Android, according to IDC), but with Android One, Google is aiming to bring some stability to the low-end market. It’s similar to Google’s Nexus line, which highlights what Android can do for higher-end phones (while still focusing on relatively inexpensive off-contract pricing).
Google says it’s working together with phone and component makers by sharing reference hardware designs, which could lead to cheaper devices with high-quality specs. Just like Nexus devices, Android One phones will get updates directly from Google, so users won’t be beholden to the whims of their carriers. The devices also include features that are particularly useful for the developing world, like dual SIM capabilities, expandable storage, FM radio, and removable batteries.
Android Wear is launching in India with phones from Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice. They all share similar specs: A 4.5-inch processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, a quad-core processor, and a 5-megapixel camera. As you can see from the picture above and the video below, the phones look fairly indistinguishable now. But you can expect phone makers to get more creative with their designs down the line. Google also revealed new partners for Android One, including Acer, Asus, HTC, Lenovo, and Qualcomm.
Google has also partnered with Airtel in India to offer free updates over cellular for the first six months. During that time, Airtel customers can also download up to 200 megabytes worth of apps for free every month.
Google also plans to launch an offline version of YouTube in India, which will let consumers rewatch videos without eating up their mobile data.
“Access for access’s sake is not enough,” wrote Google VP Sundar Pichai, who leads Android and Chrome, in a blog post today. “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.”
And of course, it also helps that all of those new web users will likely be dependent on Google’s services.