An Android for India?

74Ruchika Goel | DATAQUEST

Google recently launched low cost phones based on a new platform called Android One in tie-up with Micromax and Spice who would manufacture and sell these phones. Google’s stated intention with Android One is to “provide uniform Android experience on low cost phones in emerging markets”.

Google has been wanting to do this for some time now. Last year, it announced Android 4.4 Kitkat for low cost phones. The announcement dealt with perfecting the software aspects of running Android on low cost phones.
Android One is a reference platform for hardware manufacturers and it takes Google’s intention of serving the emerging markets a step further. The intention definitely sounds very noble. It sounds like a win-win for all and magnanimous Google doesn’t even charge the customer for the platform.

The truth is something different. For Google, the mobile business is not an end in itself; it is a grand means to an even grander end. Google is interested in monetizing mobile search because mobile search would overtake desktop search likely in the next 18 months. And tied to mobile search are two powerful treasures: Mobile advertising revenue and location-specific data; the latter again circling back to the former in a positive spiral.

But reports suggest that Android already has about 85% of platform share in smartphones and that it is growing at a fast clip. So, why is Google worried?

Google is worried because even within the Android base there is a sect that bypasses Google and doesn’t serve its ambitions. There are two types of Android-the stock Android and Android Open Source platform (AOSP). Technicalities aside, the former is closely tied to Google Services (functions and apps developed by Google) and the latter allows drastic modifications to the platform and in such cases it bypasses Google Services. For example, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet is based on AOSP; it has Android at the core but Amazon’s proprietary technology is thickly built on top of it. Many cheap Asian manufacturers have been using AOSP to make phones that deliver inconsistent Android experience, Google fears.

Notably, Xiaomi from the AOSP camp hit the headlines recently. The vendor has managed to smooth out the Android experience with a good dose of local functionalities akin to Google Services. Google had officially exited China in 2010, but Internet fever in China is unabated and is fueled by its own native browser, search engine, ecommerce, social networking, et al. Also, China threatens to export it to other emerging nations. In a nutshell, the AOSP camp has got wings and is threatening to fly high.

Android One is basically Google’s move to thwart this threat and to move in to giant markets with pots of gold.

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