A brief history of Android One

Updated by Faizan Nabi on September 07, 2017

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A brief history of Android One

In 2014, Google had literally run itself into a major problem. The thing is, this problem wasn't new, it was brewing when Google launched the first Android phone back in 2008. In its early days, Android was marketed as being the ocean in comparison to iOS's tightly constructed pond, it was free to tinker with for OEM's and user's alike, promising freedom to customise a device to suit one's liking. OS Fragmentation The OEM's took full advantage of this, creating attractive UI skins that ran on top of vanilla Android and let's be honest, Android 1.5 might have been powerful but it wasn't really going to steal the thunder away from the silky-smooth iOS aesthetics. The various customizations that OEM's did in the early days ended up working in Google's favour, giving user's a choice to pick and choose from various OEM's and skins. As time went on, it became the norm for an OEM to customise their Android experience to be different from the competition, the trouble was it became a nightmare for the search giant to deliver timely updates to Android with so many devices running so many customizations. Google attempted to address this problem with Ice Cream Sandwich, completely revamping the aesthetics and slowly baking in features from OEM skins into the OS itself, they hoped that companies will slowly switch back to vanilla Android seeing as how the OS now had an identity of its own. That didn't happen and with Samsung's booming success, OEM's rushed to copy the template to taste the nectar of success. Worse yet, Google's own line of Nexus devices ran parallel to OEM's devices, creating competition within the ecosystem and dividing public opinion, this has over time led to situation where consumers have ended up on the receiving end, with Google and its OEM's partners not able to provide timely updates to their devices rendering many of them obsolete once the next version Android was released. Google tackles the problem at the roots In 2014, Google announced the Android One program, a series of low-cost devices that would run stock Android and whose design, development and marketing will be taken care of by the company. The OEM's would be tasked to manufacture the devices. Any company taking part in the Android One program were forced to abide by certain rules, no customisation, adherence to minimum hardware requirements and no interference in the upkeep and upgradation of the OS on these devices, these would be carried out strictly by Google. Google spun the marketing to focus on bringing affordable devices for the developing nations like India but what it was really doing was showing users the power of stock Android and it had planned to attack the problem at its roots, trying to convert OEM's making low to mid-range devices, where the most amount of fragmentation stemmed from. Its hope was people would use these devices and would clamour for stock Android, forcing OEM's to drop their custom UI skins and sign on to Google's program. In September 2014, the very first Android One branded phones were made available to the public. A Timeline of releases so far Micromax, Spice and Karbonn became the first manufacturers to release smartphones adhering to Google's Android One principles. Spice became the first OEM to sell an Android One smartphone out of the gates, with the Android One Dream UNO, an Android 4.4 device that came with a 4.5-inch screen, 1.3 GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It was priced at Rs. 6,999. Micromax's Canvas A1 followed almost the same hardware footprint, a 1.3GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It had a similar 4.5-inch screen and was priced aggressively at Rs. 6,499 and as you might have guessed by now, the Karbonn Sparkle V was like the previous two phones, 4.5-inch screen, 1.3 GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage and was priced the cheapest of the three at Rs. 6,399. Initial reception to the phone was positive with media outlets around the country and with Motorola also releasing a line of stock Android phones with Moto G and E respectively, it was looking like Google was all set to make OEM's reconsider using stock Android on phones. Little did it know, that an unknown Chinese company called Xiaomi was planning to unleash the Mi 3 on the Indian masses. The rise of the Chinese OEM's Google's Android One platform was never designed to be specific to one country, it was designed to be used as a template in developing nations around the world. By 2015, the first generation of devices had spread to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Philippines. In July of 2015, India received its second-generation Android One device, the Lava Pixel V1 launched with a 1.3 GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of Internal storage, it even had advanced optics for the Rs. 8,999 price tag but by this time, the Xiaomi storm had consumed India. The runaway success of the Mi 3 had redefined the price points at which premium phones should be sold at. It offered high tier specifications at an incredible Rs. 13,999 price point and its blueprint for India was what opened the floodgates for Chinese made devices in the country. Soon we were overwhelmed by choices, insane phones at rock bottom prices, the dominance was so severe that by the time the Android One program reached its third generation, Google had completely given up on the idea for India, opting instead to spread to Turkey, Netherlands and Japan where it had moderate success. The rise of Chinese OEM's in India had set the company back to the beginning, back to square one with its back against the wall and a slew of Customised Chinese phones on the market. It had no choice but to wait for the euphoria to die down. The Big Comeback Come 2017, the death grip that the Chinese devices had on the Indian market share hasn't died down but it has now reached a point where the cream of the crop amongst the Chinese OEM's have risen to the top, some like LeEco have died down and some like Huawei, OnePlus, Vivo and Xiaomi have found a specific niche to exist within. It's interesting to think that Google decided to bring Android One back to India on the shoulders of the company that almost derailed the project here in the first place. Xiaomi's Mi A1 marks the beginning of the fourth generation of Android One devices and along with Y!Mobile Sharp X1 for Japan and General Mobile 6 in Turkey begins a new strategy aimed at creating a flagship for the mid-tier market like the Pixel is for the premium segment. When speaking with Gizmodo India, Jon Gold, the global director of Android programs said "The device will have a standardised UI called the Google launcher. It's going to get regular security updates. It's going to get letter upgrades (updates to the next version) and it's a device that Google stands behind and says that this is what is we think is the best application of Android," when asked what the Android One program signifies for Google. He also confirmed Google's plans regarding specialised phones that cater to specific audiences under the Android One platform. "Every particular phone is targeted at a particular user segment," said Gold while adding "This particular phone (Mi A1) is targeted at people who really love photography and want to try out the pure, stock Android experience. I think each phone targets a different segment and I hope we sell as many of this phone as possible." The Future and Android GO Besides the Android One program, Google also has another ace up its sleeve, the Android GO program. Announced at I/O in May of this year, think of Android GO as a natural evolution to Android One, it has many of same goals as Android One, namely affordable, budget-friendly phones for developing nations but with a new bedrock of Android Oreo underneath. The next major update to Android, Oreo is built from the ground up to allow Google to separate important system functions from vendor modifications. It has a separate abstraction layer known as Vendor Interface. What this means is it allows OEM's to apply their customizations on top of Android as a separate layer and apply the specific code for device hardware. This allows OEM's to selectively update the OS framework to bring their device to the latest version Android, allowing them to roll out OTA's faster. What's even more interesting is Oreo will also have a lightweight version designed to run on devices with as little as 512 MB of RAM. Google will also optimise its own apps to run more fluently on lower-end hardware. The future looks bright for Android One, even if Google got the timing wrong the first time around. It now looks like the company finally has a solid plan in place for its Android One platform to succeed.


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