Android One – Third Generation The Charm
Google has very recently announced the first Android One device designed for the developed smartphone market, the Motorola Moto X4. Let’s take a look at why the Moto X4 Android One represents a new direction for Google. This third generation Android One device is long overdue. It brings with it full support for Google Fi, the company’s virtual cellular network based in North America, plus the promise of two years of software updates – something Motorola is unable to do.
First, let’s take a look at the original idea behind the original Android One devices. The first three models were built by Indian manufacturers Karbon, Micromax and Spice. These devices had a similar low-end specification and a price tag around $100. They were launched running Android 4.4 KitKat and were updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow direct from Google. As these devices run stock Android, their performance is smooth and consistent. The idea behind the original Android One devices is to offer customers a relatively inexpensive route into smartphone ownership, with India’s Airtel carrier offering free data for customers to download apps on the Google Play Store as well as free software updates for six months.
It sounded great, but unfortunately for Google the $100 price tag was too expensive for the hardware on offer. Customers quickly forgot the value of 200 MB worth of Google Play Store apps free of charge a month when they saw cheaper handsets with better specifications available. Later on, second generation Android One devices became available with higher specifications and price tags. It seemed that Android One had lost its original plan.
Let me take readers back to 2013, long before Android One was announced. Google sold a number of Google Play Edition devices via the Google Play Store. Although these devices were short lived and exclusive to the North American market, they received their software updates quicker than the normal manufacturer devices and used a stock interface. Google were also linked with “Project Silver” rumours, whereby manufacturers would release versions of their flagship devices running a stock Android build. Unfortunately, Android Silver did not materialise.
Roll forward to 2017 and again we see Google cooperating with manufacturers to release a near-stock version of the software but this time under the Android One blanket. I’d already covered the rumours of Android One versions of Motorola and Xiaomi devices, and these have now been revealed. There may be a HTC-built Android One device to follow. These devices come with the same hardware as the original model but with different software, and the promise of two years of update support from Google, and three years of security patch support. The other big news is that for the first time ever, we are seeing an Android One device officially released into the American market.
Why has Google decided to release the first Android One device into the American market in 2017? The reason here appears to be based around two main factors. One is to encourage manufacturers to keep on top of software updates and security patches. At the time of writing, a very small number of device manufacturers are keeping devices regularly patched. BlackBerry, Nokia, OnePlus and Wileyfox spring to mind, showing up the bigger manufacturers.
The second reason is connected with Google Fi. Google Fi currently only supports a limited number of pure Google devices – basically you can use the Google Nexus 6 or later Nexus model, and the first generation Google Pixel devices. We’re sure to see the second generation Pixel devices compatible with Google Fi too. When new, these were (and are) premium-priced devices. The $399 Moto X4 is considerably cheaper, even if it is not a budget device as the original Android One handsets were. Google is lowering the barriers to entry and making the Google Fi plan look more appealing. I reckon there’s still more work to be done to make Google Fi a more desirable option for many customers, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.