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Google I/O 2014: Android One headed for emerging markets

Android One reveal

Google-controlled entry-level smartphones for emerging markets revealed at I/O

Sundar Pichai opened his Google I/O keynote speech by putting a long-running rumour to rest: the so-called Android Silver programme, which was supposed to replace the Nexus smartphone range, is actually called Android One and is aimed at emerging and developing markets.

Android One, which is due to begin in India before rolling out to other territories later, is a Google-controlled set of reference hardware and software designed to make it easier for mobile networks and manufacturers to launch new devices and provide updates to customers. Currently OEMs have to work to an annual cycle of development, manufacture and support, but with Android One Google will dictate which components to source.

It will also mean customers get Android updates sooner, as Android One devices will use stock Android rather than a manufacturer-tweaked version that requires extra testing before software patches can be sent out to users’ phones. Instead, Android One partners will be able to pre-load specific apps from the Google Play Store in order to differentiate their handsets from the competition.

Android One is partly Google’s attempt to corner the emerging and developing markets, in order to reach “the next 5 billion users” in countries where smartphone ownership is currently less than ten percent, but it will also create competition for Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which is proving more popular in growing markets than here in the UK.

Micromax Android One handset

Indian manufacturers Spice, Micromax and Karbonn are all on board with Android One, with the first reference handset due out later this year. The platform includes a 4.5in screen and features deemed crucial for success in India, including dual SIM card slots, SD card expandable storage, an FM radio and a low price: roughly $100, or Rs. 6,000 in India.

Pichai has been using a Micromax Android One handset for some time, and despite being used to flagship smartphones said he was “really impressed” with its performance and usability.

Although it’s unlikely Android One handsets will be heading to the UK any time soon, it’s possible that if the programme proves succesful in other territories Google could get larger manufacturers on board.

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