Fans of dirt-cheap e-reading devices – and who isn’t? – will be gladdened by one of the many announcements to come out of the Google I/O 2014 development conference, still under way in San Francisco. There, Google Android supremo Sundar Pichai introduced Android One, a new reference platform designed to bring an almost-full Android experience to users in emerging markets, with a sub-$100 price tag. According to the official Google Blog:
There are many people—billions of people, in fact—who still don’t have access to a smartphone. We want to change that; so today we announced an important initiative called Android One. We’re working with partners on a comprehensive solution—which includes hardware reference platforms—to address the mobile computing needs of those in emerging markets. Android One will provide smartphones that are high quality, affordable and come with reasonable data plans. Our partners will launch an initial range of sub-$100 Android One smartphones starting in India this Fall, with more countries to follow. We’ve long wondered what potential could be unleashed if people everywhere had access to the latest technology and the world’s information. It’s time to find out.
The new reference design has a 4.5″ screen, as well as emerging markets-friendly features like dual SIM slots, an SD card port, and an FM radio. Google’s plan is to extend a similar standardization and quality-proofing approach as its Google Play devices to the lower end of the market. One hardware partner already cited is Indian manufacturer Micromax. Other OEMs will presumably have the option to standardize on Android One or follow their own paths, but the platform already looks hard to resist.
The Android One reference design also parallels moves in other areas to rein in Android fragmentation, particularly the developer preview of the upcoming Android L iteration of the world’s most popular smartphone OS. Part and parcel of Android One on the software side, as well as a stock OS build, is automatic updates to the OS, making the endless wait for manufacturer-driven online upgrades a thing of the past – hopefully.
Will Android One devices start to appear in more developed markets? More than likely, I expect, given how porous modern market boundaries are, and that the European Union’s single market still contains some lower-income countries that would be ideal for Android One. At the very least, Android One should make it very hard for low-end devices to get away with anything less than a 4.5″ screen, making for a more comfortable smartphone e-reading experience all round.