New Life for Android One

Xiaomi Launches a Phone on Google’s Vanilla Platform

Android One was originally introduced by Google in late 2014 as a smartphone platform reference design. Google’s intention was to accelerate the expansion of smartphones and its services in developing markets by simplifying Android adoption and ongoing maintenance for device manufacturers. To date, Android One hasn’t reached the company’s original vision of creating a standardised Android experience. Although Android use has proliferated in emerging markets during the past three years, Android One itself has reached a very limited audience.

Earlier this week, at an event in Delhi, India, Xiaomi launched its first Android One smartphone in partnership with Google. The device, the Mi A1, is a 5.5-inch handset running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and has a full high-definition display. It’s set in a 7 mm thick aluminium unibody with concealed antenna bands.

The Mi A1 also features dual rear-facing cameras, one for wide-angle capture and the other with a telephoto lens, USB-C charging and a fingerprint sensor. The initial price is 14,999 rupees (about $230).

For Xiaomi, the phone is unlikely to have much of a market impact: the phone-maker already has a strong presence in India, having captured the second spot earlier in 2017, behind market leader Samsung. The Mi A1 will offer users a cleaner, stock Android experience, eliminating many of the undesirable preloads or bloatware often found on smartphones. Android One will enable the Chinese company to cater to potential customers who are uncomfortable with Xiaomi’s own Miui Android platform.

Priced as high as it is, the phone deviates from the affordability associated with Android One – although it appears this is a deliberate decision by Google as it repositions its platform. The handset is well-specified and the inclusion of dual cameras and a fingerprint sensor — features still unusual for entry-level smartphones — brings the device to a different, mid-range audience.

The Mi A1 will be initially available in India from 12 September 2017. Xiaomi said the phone would eventually land in more than 40 other markets including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Vietnam, but it didn’t reveal launch dates for these countries.

Ultimately, we believe the winner here is Google. It has been looking for ways to add more appeal to Android One. Xiaomi brings a hip name to the platform after a series of local and, in most cases, relatively unknown smartphone makers adopted the platform.

Android One is a chance for Google to retain some sort of order in its ecosystem, given the many flavours of Android floating around. It’s also an opportunity to make its services a clear choice for users. Google has been touting Android One during the past three years and the successful recruitment of Xiaomi is certainly a plus for the platform. Nonetheless, Google needs more commitment from top brands to make this stick.