Google has launched an initiative designed to make smartphones more affordable to develop and produce. The initiative will target OEMs specifically making phones for developing markets, which could help increase Android’s already dominant consumer market share even further.
While smartphones are fairly commonplace in the US, the opposite holds true in developing nations, where most consumers are still using feature phones. Such markets are quickly becoming a priority for just about every player in the mobile world. Indeed, IDC says that in India alone, smartphone sales have grown by 186 percent in the last year, with the lion’s share (78 percent) of these devices priced below $200.
This market opportunity is often referred to as “the next billion”, and companies like Nokia have been hot on its heels for some time now. Nokia’s Asha line of smartphones, and more recently, its Android-powered Nokia X series, are examples of devices specifically aimed at low-budget consumers. Nokia’s new parent company, Microsoft, is also keen to capture customers in these markets – that’s one reason why it’s giving away its Windows Phone platform for free to OEMs these days. Then there’s Mozilla and its Firefox OS platform, which aims to deliver a $25 smartphone in the not-too-distant future.
Google’s late entry
Android One is a new reference platform designed to help manufacturers to build low-cost Android phones to rival those offered by Nokia, Microsoft and Firefox. During the presentation at Google I/O, Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president, said a typical device might come with a 4.5-inch screen, dual-SIM support, MicroSD expansion, FM radio and a price tag of $100. Google’s hoping that manufacturers looking to build cheap smartphones will do so using Android, adopting its reference designs in part because they come with the promise of ongoing support.
The project should be an enticing option for manufacturers, assuming they can put up with Google’s restrictions. Google is making it easier for manufacturers to develop and produce devices because it is doing all of the hard work figuring out materials costs. For Google, it ensures that even low-end devices can run its software and run it well, providing a uniform experience across a wide array of devices from multiple manufacturers. Other advantages include significantly reduced manufacturing and design as Google already provides a reference design and recommended parts.
Another benefit is that time to market should be faster thanks to standardized testing and certification. Handsets would need to pass Google’s own tests as well, but with a Google-inspired design, that’s likely to be a formality.
Android One isn’t just about the hardware though; Google is also making sure these new low-cost smartphones will run the latest version of Android, without being encumbered by too much “bloatware.” As such, all Android One phones will run stock Android, have access to Google Play and be in line for updates.
Google’s strategy could see it capture a significant market share in emerging nations over the next few years, albeit at small margins. To prepare, it’s trying to pull together a fragmented market. Forked versions of Android built using the Android Open Source Project platform have become an increasing problem, particularly in China and India. Microsoft and Nokia have shot back by promising a cohesive user experience and solid support. With a unified Android One, though, that argument could disappear.
Google has all but won the consumer mobile war in most developed countries, although Apple still has dominant market share in enterprises. Android One could give it a good shot of winning in emerging markets, too.