Android One is back from dead. Well, Google would argue it wasn’t ever dead, technically. But the truth is, hardly anyone cared about it. Until today. Xiaomi, who is possibly the hottest smartphone brand in India, announced the Mi A1 with Android One inside. Of all the zillion OEMs in the world, Xiaomi would be the last name I’d have probably taken if someone asked me who would make the next big Android One phone. With over 280 million active userbase for its homebrew MIUI ROM, it’s tough to understand why Xiaomi would launch a phone with Stock Android.
But no such confusion exists with Google’s intent. They are working day in and day out to improve Android. But owing to the ‘open’ nature of the ecosystem, OEMs have been customizing AOSP (or stock android, to keep it simple) to stand out from others. In addition to the ever-growing ‘fragmentation’ issues, Google is losing out in prioritizing some of its services like Google Assistant. We have already seen multiple companies developing their own Smart Assistants – like Samsung’s Bixby and Huawei’s unnamed assistant. Also, we saw Lenovo integrating Google’s biggest competitor in the AI space, Amazon’s Alexa, on the Moto X4. Ideally, with Android One, Google will be able to push Google services while showcasing the simple and secure nature of Stock Android.
But is that enough?
Today, at the launch of Xiaomi Mi A1, Google got enough stage time to talk about Android One. They referred to this as a rebirth of the Android One effort in India and spoke about the change in target market which is no more the feature phone users transitioning into smartphones like it was back in 2014. The hardware isn’t underpowered like before. Google is promising a ‘premium experience’ with hardware including dual rear cameras, Snapdragon 625 processor, and 4GB of RAM.
But what about the software?
The Mi A1 runs on Android 7.1.2 Nougat with the latest August security update patch in tow. Google is touting the simplicity of Stock Android with no bloatware, latest Google services like Google Assistant, free unlimited storage of ‘high quality’ photos and videos, timely security updates and timely Android OS upgrades. Sounds good, right? Being an Android One device, it’s on par with Google’s own Nexus and Pixel smartphones when it comes to priority software upgrades.
Just that, it’s not.
Even if I’m fine with not having Android Oreo out of the box, the least I’d expect from a Google Android One device is to be included in the list of devices eligible for the private beta. And all that we got was a promise to update to Android O by “end of this year”.
And how about the free unlimited photo upload claim? Reading the fine print, you realize that Google isn’t offering anything over and above what they offer for EVERY Google Photos user on Android and iOS. By default, everyone is getting free unlimited storage for ‘high quality’ photos. Instead, Pixel users get free unlimited storage for ‘full resolution’ photos. Notice the difference?
It’s sad that Google had to literally bluff unsuspecting users into believing they are providing some special unlimited storage deal with Android One. That’s because they virtually have NOTHING to offer over and above Stock Android. The same Stock Android that we get with Moto, Nokia, and Essential phones. Except that, the updates will be handled directly by Google.
But wait, that’s not the case either.
The updates won’t be coming directly from Google, but via Xiaomi. This is because, as per Xiaomi, Android doesn’t yet natively support dual camera setups, so they had to integrate the Mi camera app, which means, the updates will be handled by Xiaomi themselves. Again, no real advantage of being on Android One over Stock Android. We can assume (and hope) slightly faster updates, but nothing else.
So what’s Google bringing to the table here?
- No private beta for Android Oreo.
- No unlimited storage for ‘full resolution’ images on Google Photos.
- No direct software updates from Google.
- No free Google Play credits like on Pixel.
Other OEMs like Nokia and Essential are promising (and delivering) monthly security updates and faster OS upgrades without Android One. No wonder Google had to bluff the way they did with Google Photos unlimited storage.
Of course, we hear there is a decent marketing budget from Google for the revival of Android One with more phones from more OEMs in tow. Sadly, Android One needs more than money to survive and be taken seriously.