Back in September 2014, Sundar Pichai who was back then Google’s Senior Vice President for products came to India and launched the Android One program to great fanfare. Only months before at the Google I/O developer conference he had unveiled the program and showcased a Micromax “turn-key” phone which would be later called the A1. At this event, Google and Pichai’s team religiously talked about the advantages of stock Android and regular updates. Purists were hopeful of higher quality budget Android devices and this was pitched as the anecdote to anathema that was and still is Android fragmentation. Fast forward almost exactly three years, Pichai is now the CEO of Google and here we are still and Android One is sort of in the middle of a re-launch.
The thing is Android One was launched as a part of a turnkey software and hardware solution, but the hardware on Android One products wasn’t any good. This means devices with better hardware left Android One based products behind in the dust.
It literally went nowhere in India. The other problem was the lack of differentiation between the Android One launch partners Micromax, Spice and Karbonn as they essentially were offering the same product. And they were not happy about it. Google changed things around and there have been many Android One smartphones that have been launched across the world, but in India, it continued to flounder despite Lava also launching the Pixel V1 smartphone.
So three years later Google is back with Android One. The device that champions the program is also a bloody good one. However, the problem is that now many manufacturers are offering the pure Google experience and updates.
HMD Global, for example, is offering Nokia phones which deliver on this promise. They even had Google executives come on stage when they launched their phones. In fact, in terms of security updates, its phones have received the updates faster than Google’s own Pixel.
Oh yes, the Pixel. Google now makes its own phones as opposed to the Nexus phones which were made by partners like LG, Huawei, Motorola, and HTC.
So essentially, Android One has become a standardised software stack offering the Google launcher and minimal pre uploads and few OEM level customisations like the camera app in the Mi A1.
But this type of thing is happening on phones even from Lenovo and Motorola and HMD Global which don’t have the Android One branding.
So is now Android One just a glorified certification? Either way, it isn’t the worst thing, as long as the hardware is good, which it is on the Mi A1.