Signs of Life from Android One

Google’s Platform Could Be Coming to the US

The Information is reporting that Google is working with a smartphone manufacturer to introduce devices with Android One for the US market.

Android One is a software and hardware reference design introduced by Google two and a half years ago. The original intention behind the platform was to accelerate smartphone adoption in emerging markets by bringing costs down and creating a standardised experience. Indian smartphone makers including Karbonn, Micromax and Spice were quick to accept the challenge. If nothing else, it was an opportunity to build a relationship with Google.

If the ambition of creating a cookie-cutter market for $100 smartphones in developing markets floundered, the altered strategy of establishing Android One in the US is perplexing — the market is already filled with low-cost, unlocked smartphones, most of which struggle to compete against devices sold by operators, often below cost.

Google is being tenacious, as its original plans with Android One have had little direct impact on the market, although the company did set the tone for pricing in India.

The industry’s lukewarm reception for the platform is understandable. With Android One, Google controls all pre-installs and subsequent software updates, thus depriving smartphone makers and operators the chance to explore alternative business models. There’s a sense that Google doesn’t want to share.

In early 2015, we began to question the potential of Android One (see What’s Become of Android One?). Although several Indian smartphone brands had introduced phones using the platform, there appeared to be no follow-through in the market.

We don’t doubt that Google plans a revival for Android One, but to get any traction in a mature market will require a business model redesign. This may not be the end of Android One — there might be signs of life in the coming months, but its longevity is still in doubt.