Back at I/O 2014, Google announced Android One. The initiative, meant to be the Messiah of Android device users mainly in emerging markets that would otherwise not get the latest Android software on the hardware they use has turned out to be a white elephant for Google.
Other than the continued release of devices by General Mobile, little has been heard of the initiative in over a year. The initiative was never mentioned at all at last year’s I/O, the annual Google developer conference where it was first introduced to the world from. That led to widespread rumours and murmurs about its death before we descended into an abyss of wait-and-see and total uncertainty.
Android One struggled to gain traction as users shunned its first generation devices in favour of well-specced and favourably priced devices running Android from their preferred device makers. Device makers, on the other hand, shunned the initiative in favour of pushing their own low-cost smartphones. Some, like Samsung, even went ahead to come up with their own platform mainly geared for entry-level devices just like Android One, Tizen.
The future of the initiative, which once landed in Kenya and several African countries through Chinese device maker Infinix’s second generation Hot smartphone, is now uncertain.
This is after Google announced Android Go, its new initiative aimed at wooing entry-level device buyers, at Google I/O 2017.
Think of it as Android Lite, if it existed.
According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the man who introduced Android One in his past stint as the head of Android at Google, “The goal (of Android Go) is to get computing into the hands of more people by creating a great smartphone experience on all Android devices with 1GB or less of memory.”
Unlike Android One, which is more about the hardware and less about the software (other than the delivery of timely updates and being unadulterated/stock), Android Go is not a full version of Android. It is a lightweight version of Android. Think of Android Lite, if it existed. Android but stripped of all the features that make it resource intensive and a pain to use on entry-level devices.
Android Go is meant to go slow on resource use. It will use less memory, occupy less storage space and consume less mobile data. Google will optimize not just the software but the hardware as well in order to make this possible.
Google’s vice president for Android and Play, Sameer Samat, noted as much during his presentation, “For manufacturers to make more affordable entry-level devices, the prices of the components have to come down. Let’s take one example: memory is an expensive component. So, we are making a number of optimizations to the system UI and the kernel to allow an Android O device built with the Go configuration to run smoothly with as little as 512 MB to 1GB of memory.”
Android Go devices will have a special version of the Play Store which will highlight all the “lite” apps while still offering access to all the other standard apps.
Just as it has done with the YouTube Go app, Google is working on ensuring its own apps are able to be accessed by Android Go users without data usage going overboard.
The data saver feature on the Chrome browser, for instance, will be turned on by default on all devices running Android Go as part of Google’s efforts to make sure users reap the benefits of the lightweight version of Android. Google will take things a notch higher by giving users detailed information on their data use and providing carriers like Safaricom with access to an API which they can take advantage of to let their users have more control of the data they consume on their devices. That seems timely given the data bundles consumption debate currently taking place in the country that has seen Safaricom dedicate considerable amounts of resources to sensitize its subscribers on the best data management practices.
Just as specialized apps like YouTube Go have existed alongside the main apps (in this case the YouTube app), Android Go will exist alongside the standard version of Android.
According to Google, Android Go will be available alongside every new version of Android going forward.
Android Go is not expected until some time in 2018 by which time Android One’s death will have been pretty certain.