Will the Android Flood Burst the Dam?

Unsurprisingly, perhaps the main focus at Mobile World Congress this year has been on the glitz and glamour of high-end Android devices. Yet the more significant news is coming from the low end, as we predicted.


Alcatel has launched five Android products, all of which mark an aggressive push into prepaid markets. One phone in particular, the One Touch 890, looks set to take Android below €60 at retail, especially as there’s no 3G connectivity to bump up the cost. ZTE, Huawei and others have also continued to push Android down the price curve.

There’s no doubt this is good for Google, but it raises questions about how long Android can maintain a single platform for every phone from the low end to the top tier. The fragmentation argument has been overstated, but it’s now a very significant question.

Different versions would of course add to the flavours that have emerged for handsets and tablets. But the challenge for handsets is of much greater importance.

Google’s a victim of its own success here. The more Android is adopted and driven down the price curve, the more this curtails what can be enforced and delivered in future updates. Low-end devices with limited memory, processing power and no hardware acceleration are already struggling to deliver enhancements to the user interface. Conversely, in the top tier, platform demands are increasing with the advent of dual-core (and even quad-core) processors, dedicated GPUs and hardware acceleration.

It’s hard to see how Google can continue to cater to both ends of the market. In continuing to accommodate the lower level, it risks curtailing performance and experience at the top. This will have an effect on applications, services and the user interface. When it’s competing directly with Apple, that’s no small problem.

Symbian ultimately found this impossible. That may not be a fair or even relevant comparison, but Google needs to make a choice between splitting the platform to create a low-end variant, or sacrificing the experience at the high end. The alternative is it does nothing to address the problem and forges ahead with development while largely ignoring implications for entry-level devices. That would be a dangerous move given that scale is the name of the game for Android.

Whichever option Google chooses, life is set to get harder still for many of its partners, particularly at the low end.