Google’s ambitious Android One program: explained

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The smartphone industry is rather limited when it comes to hardware. Similar processors, camera sensors, display panels, and all that from the same manufacturers. That, however, isn’t half of what makes or breaks a phone. What differentiates all the glass-metal sandwiches in the market is what they pack inside: software makes or breaks a phone.

Samsung’s TouchWiz/OneUI, Xiaomi’s MiUI and countless more brand-specific interpretations, and now Stock, One and Go experiences: Android has a lot of flavors.

What sets Android One apart?

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When it was first introduced back in 2014 by then-SVP Sundar Pichai, Android One was a distinct version of Android created for low-end phones in developing countries. The program went further than solely software — it was both a software and hardware partnership with Google aiding a variety of manufacturers like Spice, Karbonn, Cherry Mobile, Micromax, and others make budget phones ( ₹5000 and under) that still achieve a minimum standard of quality and performance.

Android One was an idea to bring Android to the “next billion” users who couldn’t afford higher-end Android phones. The software was kept clutter-free and focused on speed and fluidity despite their low-end specs. It was an ambitious idea with lots of moving parts, which unfortunately didn’t generate the kind of response Google expected. So, they repositioned the project.

Fast forward to 2019, the Android One badge means something entirely different. Android One phones are no longer exclusively low-end and aren’t exclusive to emerging markets anymore. Instead, Google is partnering with bigger brands for more expensive phones and selling them in new markets like Europe and North America. Flagships from Nokia, HTC, LG and Essential carry Android One software out of the box.

Android One

What Sets it Apart

Inherently, Android is open-source. Brands are encouraged to tinker and tweak the software to better fit their devices. That doesn’t hold true for this program.

With One device, the company selling it loses some of the independence which comes with hardware and software. Android One phone in production doesn’t just pass one filter, Google makes the final decision about the hardware being used, so it can be sure that the product is a “high-quality experience” Android smartphone. It then oversees the software production and maintains the responsibility to keep the device freshly updated and well oiled throughout its lifetime. This is unlike brand-specific software, where updates are up to the company’s discretion.

There are now nearly two billion Android smartphones in the world, spanning options from 400 manufacturers. Android One seems like an attempt to regain some quality control and cohesion to help prevent consumers from feeling confused by overwhelming diversity.