Google Aims Android One at the “Next Five Billion”

by Matt Klassen on September 16, 2014

Google began this week by taking yet another important step towards world domination; it unveiled Android One, an unadorned version of its operating system aimed squarely at emerging markets. To that end, the official unveiling of Google’s Android One took place in the early hours of Monday morning, not in the company’s California headquarters, but 8,000 miles away in New Delhi, India.

The project, initially announced at Google’s I/O conference earlier this summer, stands as a way for Google to better guide handset manufacturers in creating truly affordable smartphones for emerging markets. Beyond ultimately reducing the price for an Android device, however, Android One is also designed to combat fragmentation, one of the key issues plaguing the Android, by delivering a consistent, albeit pared down, Android experience.

Although there has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the “affordability barrier” preventing the global expansion of smartphones—that is, the appropriate price point that would ultimately make smartphones accessible to the “next 5 billion”—Google has set its own affordability mark at $100, working first with Indian mobile companies to create affordable Android devices with expansion into other key emerging markets to quickly follow.

“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,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and apps, in a blog post.

The fact that Google is clamouring so loudly about Android One clearly underscores the vital importance of emerging markets in the future growth of such technology companies, particularly given the saturated markets in the developed world. But as I mentioned the one barrier inhibiting smartphone expansion into the 2/3s world is that $100 is still out of reach for most of the “next five billion,” and that even if the phone’s are subsidized by carriers, such binding contracts will be unappealing to many who still enjoy the relative freedom of affordable prepaid feature phones.

But that said, the encroachment of the smartphone cannot be stopped, meaning even if those in the 2/3s world resist the smartphone, they won’t be able to do so for long. In fact, given that cellular networks have reached all corners of the globe, it won’t be long before data networks follow, no matter how remote a person is.

To that end Google stands as but one of several visionaries who have aimed their efforts at connecting the “next billions,” but with a price point of $100 the truth is it may still have priced itself out of the market. Earlier this summer Mozilla announced the release of a $25 smartphone in India, a phone that shattered the critical price point of $30 previously set by India’s own Bharti Airtel CEO Manoj Kohli a year earlier.

While I do find it interesting that Bharti Airtel has partnered with Google as well, the reality that I think has eluded Google here is that its “affordable” $100 Android phone will likely be considered a high end smartphone in India and the rest of the 2/3s world, still far out of reach for the average person looking to connect to the mobile world. Further, given that many have arrived in the Indian mobile market ahead of Google, perhaps its already too late for Android to make a difference.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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