Has Google Failed with Android One?

Has Google Failed with Android One?

It was the summer of 2014, when Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, thought of ways to bring the internet (and most importantly, Google services) to developing countries using his home country India as a springboard before spreading to other parts of the world.

That need to “enlighten” the majorly untapped parts of the world — this is ultimately what gave birth to the Android One project. In his words :

“Essentially, the goal is for Android One to facilitate the spread of Google-controlled Android among the next billion (or two billion, or more) smartphone buyers by offering a compelling entry-level product, aided by local OEMs. In turn, the fact that manufacturers won’t need to worry about software or sourcing hardware components means they can turn around products more quickly”.

In developing countries, local OEMs churn out devices steadily with no hope of future updates

That same 2014, Android One phones were first released in India, then Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The very first devices launched were the Micromax Canvas A1, Spice Dream UNO, Karbonn Sparkle V, Mito Impact and Cherry Mobile One.

Then the second generation devices started arriving between July – August 2015, and they included the Lava Pixel V1, Infinix Hot 2 and the BQ Aquarius A4.5.

These devices had many things in common. They all ran MediaTek chips to keep prices low, and they were priced at less that $200. All were targeted at people buying their first smartphone; Google was to aid or handle design, development, marketing, and support while manufacturing was carried out by the partnering OEMs. Android One smartphones ran software close to stock Android, without any extra modifications common with smartphone vendors. Security and system updates were also to be handled by Google.

You see, this aspect of updates has personally irked me on many occasions. In this part of the world, local OEMs churn out devices steadily with no hope of future updates. An updated Android OS thus required that you buy a new device, so news of the Android One project comes as a saving grace.

On paper, this was perfect, and ideal. Striking a balance between the best software experience and gaining more user base. In summary, the objectives of the Android One projects are thus:

  • To get more people using Google services.
  • To greatly minimize or end fragmentation.
  • To help bring tech to remote parts of the world at an affordable price.

To some extent, I’d say they’ve reached some of these goals, but to what degree is what matters in this case. Planification is what most of the time looks and sounds easy, but it isn’t — the bigger challenge is in implementation and how additional or resulting problems are tackled. Despite winning on some fronts, Google failed woefully on some other aspects which we will look at subsequently.

Poor Distribution

After the launch of the first set of Android One devices, Google made some wrong assumptions, and consequently took some wrong decisions. They only pushed sales of the devices strictly online. This is a wrong step to take in emerging markets.

Online sales is kind of a new trend in these places, therefore people are still learning to get used to purchasing items remotely (or online) without actually seeing the seller. There’s a level of trust that e-commerce stores are yet to attain with the general public. Hence this led to very poor sales, alongside the limitation that come with online purchases such as the need for non-physical currency for payments.

It also seems the focus (especially in marketing) was very strongly focused on India, and not other places with potential despite the devices being released there..

Various Inconsistencies

Google has been seriously inconsistent with the Android One project. There are many cases of them going against their original plan. Let me highlight a few. If you read the above paragraphs, you then know that Google promised to be the one directly delivering the updates to users. That has changed; in fact, it no longer holds water.

According to the Android One section of Google support page, Google had laid down the responsibility to manufacturers. Same manufacturers that take forever to deliver updates. For instance, after the Infinix Hot 2 launched in Nigeria it took till around mid-January before Marshmallow updates started seeding to users. It would be wrong to argue that the manufacturers were not responsible for this delay. After all Nexus users got theirs earlier.

Another case of inconsistency is the GM Plus 5 phone launched during MWC. The phone is comparatively high-end with a Snapdragon 617 chip, a 5.5-inch screen with 1080p resolution, 3GB of RAM and 3100 mAh battery. Call that low end right? The price of around (or slightly below) $300 would be a turnoff for the majority in the places where this phone would be launched. How then can we truly define what an Android One phone is?

Poor follow ups

Google has failed to follow up with more Android One phones after the second generation devices launched in India. There are no hopes of a second device launch in Africa and other regions supposedly covered by the project.

Failed promises

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s that feeling that Google’s Android One devices haven’t really lived up to it’s hype and expectations. Even in the countries they were launched, better ‘specced’ or rather better value-for-money devices are cutting down sales of the Android One devices.

In Conclusion

The Android One project has somewhat succeeded in bringing stock Android to millions of users, but there’s still a lot that can be done. More countries out there are yet to get a taste of it, so Google should spread their tentacles and reach out to more people and places yearning for it. Google could also do more research to understand the ecosystem and choices of users in a country before launching devices there. This will ensure good sales and greater reception if consumer demand is properly met.

Finally, would I be asking for too much, if I pleaded that Google releases updates for Android One devices as soon as they do for Nexus devices? This would give we users greater confidence and better assurances that these are Google’s children after all. And who doesn’t like fast updates?

Do you think Android One has the potential to do well again? Let us know your thoughts below!

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