The Google I/O 2014 Keynote is now history, but in amongst mostly Android related updates and announcements, we have Android One, an aggressive attempt to win control of the massive device and services eco-system of the ‘Next Billion’ users. Mobile Geeks share some thoughts on Google I/O 2014, and a strategy that tries to ensure Google’s dominance in the developing world.
Google IO 2104 in Summary
Google IO 2014 did not quite have the firework display of innovations and strategies that we have seen in the past, but there were plenty of important announcements, even if much of it was either known or strongly rumored prior to the event. All of the announcements paint a picture of how Google will continue to evolve and gain momentum in the Internet of Things space, one that is very much centered on Western markets and bleeding edge concepts that include wearables and automotive technology.
The forthcoming Android L platform will be cross-compatible with ARM, x86 and MIPS and it will also offer 64-bit support. The Extension Pack will allow developers to get even more performance from the current crop of mobile GPUs. Indeed most of the important news from a developer’s perspective was around the forthcoming Android L platform.
Android L will bring about a new design ethos with new features, an updated notification bar, plus even longer battery performance. Material Design will give apps a multi-dimensional feel, with a sense of depth that allows for smoothly animated transitions when pressing an on-screen button. The new design looks great, but in terms of news, this was all kind of predictable.
We also saw new Android Wear Smart Watches, android auto and yet another push toward the living room with android tv. Google is continuing its attempt to get into your living room and on to your TV with android tv, a diluted form of Android that will appear on digital TVs, set top boxes and even consoles. And the beauty of it is that all of the code involved is essentially the same as that used in all Android device platforms.
This further strengthens Google’s push to unify and codify the smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV, home appliance and motorcar’s connected entertainment and communications eco-systems. But yeah… we already knew all of this. Nothing too explosive in terms of news, but some major pointers as to how Google intends to dominate the future of technology as it marches forward in the West.
What about other, less developed parts of the world? What about the Next Billion?
Android One: Google sets sights on the developing world
For us, without doubt the most disruptive and crucial announcement was that of Android One. In fact you could argue that Android One represents a fundamental shift from Google. Android One will see its operating system paired with a hardware reference platform that pretty much amounts to a set of rules and guidelines for hardware that very easily and quickly facilitate super low cost smartphones that also run Android L really well.
Jelly Bean and Kit Kat have done a lot to ensure a smooth Android experience on lower cost devices, but now the hardware side will be optimized too. The most entry-level devices will be slick. It’s a major first for Google to get involved with the hardware side of the mobile phone business. The Nexus program invited selected device manufacturers to build ‘pure’ Google-envisioned devices, but Google remained on the software side of the fence for the most part.
But it’s not just about the hardware. As always with Google, it’s about the quest for dominance, competing against technology giants such as Microsoft, Intel, Apple and Amazon. Google want the ‘Next Billion’ to be using Google apps and services, hosting their data in the Google cloud and being hooked into Google’s gargantuan marketing and advertising machine.
The first Android One devices will be made in India, with Micromax taking the lead. The current crop of smartphones being sold in India range from the same mid to high-end devices that are enjoyed in the West, but there are several millions of people whose first experience of a computer or the Internet will be on a very affordable sub-$100 devices. Currently these handsets, many of which are arriving from Shenzhen China, have an inconsistent Android experience as far as Google is concerned.
Force feeding Google?
It’s not just that the devices are poorly optimized for the latest Android OS at a hardware level, it’s also that the software experience is often lacking, with key Google apps and services missing. In China of course, this is as you would expect. In China your phone does not come with the Youtube app, or Google Play pre-installed. You are funneled into an alternative (and thriving) app eco-system that is entirely devoid of Google in terms of search, communications, cloud services and media. Yet virtually all the smartphones in China run on Android and benefit from Google’s endeavors.
China is an extreme example of Google missing out on massive revenue streams, but there many countries in the world, especially the developing world where Android is implemented without Google apps and services taking center stage. It is fair to say that Google’s Android One platform is essentially an attempt to ensure it has a much firmer stranglehold on the ‘Next Billion’ smartphones…
There are three Android One tenants that will ensure that the full Google experience will be delivered consistently to all users in the developing world.
• Stock Android
• Google Play Auto-installs
• Automatic Updates
These three tenants of Android One exert a lot of control over manufacturers that may want to customize the Android experience with their own apps and services. With Android One, Google has the reigns. No, you may not use Android as a platform for your own apps and services.
So if you are a smaller handset maker, and you want Google’s help to create a great performing Android handset for less $100, you have to sign up with Android One. By doing so your hands will be tied in terms of what you can do with the OS. This is what is meant by ‘Stock Android’. It means, our version of Android. The one we want you to have.
Much in the same way that Microsoft have been bundling their own app solutions for decades (occasionally finding themselves on the wrong side an anti-trust case as a result) Google Play will auto-install (I call it ‘bundling’) on all Android One-made phones. The platform will also auto update, so that the latest versions of Google’s app repertoire are well maintained. How much control the user has over the updates is thus far unknown, but generally speaking it sounds like Google is tightening the noose.
In short, Google is taking control over smartphone software in the developing world, in a way that it would not dare to do in the West.
Is it finally 1984?
I may sounds a touch exaggerated, but there are definite Orwellian overtones to the Android One platform. It basically dangles a really good carrot in front of any smartphone manufacturer who wants to sell entry-level devices in developing markets. It also hands an immense amount of control to Google where software is concerned.
Android One offers you a software and hardware combination where Google have done all the hard work in terms of optimization. Android One will fast track your product’s time to market and reduce R&D costs substantially, allowing you to produce far cheaper devices that perform really well. It is easy to see why Android One’s first partners Micromax, Spice and Karbonn are attracted. This is a very tempting business proposition in a highly competitive market.
But to enjoy the benefits of Android One, you must also follow the rules. Sure, the rules that dictate basic specs like Dual SIMs, SD Card support plus an FM Radio are simply ensuring a good handset. Besides those rules allow Google to implement a better optimized, and more attractive platform. The rules that govern the software side are the crucial ones. This is where it will beat Windows, Apple, Amazon and even Firefox. Android One partners will be selling something close to a Nexus device – a device that has Google DNA in its soul.
Google wants our data, our preferences, tastes, desires and even our day-to-day living patterns. It always has. If Android One is successful, there will be a Billion more humans hooked into the Google grid, lured there by a campaign that promises profits in an industry where margins are shrinking.
Sounds smart to me. Ominously so.