Dear Google, Whatever Happened to Android One?
Google recently launched Android One in the Philippines. And as always it came with the promise of a pure Android experience (read “stock Android with no skins“) and automatic updates to the latest version of Android, all at a price of approximately USD 100 (give or take a few dollars).
You know, we love those words. And we love the concept of Android One, notwithstanding all our reservations about it (read our initial thoughts about Android one here).
The problem is that we first heard those words almost five months ago. When Android One was launched in India by Sundar Pichai himself.
It was a launch by three very identical phones (so identical that we had to combine them all into one massive review). And we were told that they would all be soon updated to the latest version of Android (Lollipop, which was already out at that time), and that more models would be forthcoming from the likes of Lenovo, Xolo and Acer, among others.
Five months on, we are waiting.
There has been no Lollipop update to the Android One series in India (although we hear it might finally be coming in a “few weeks” earlier this month – no date was given, alas). And only one more phone has been added to the array – the Dream Uno H from Spice, which is pretty much the same as the Dream Uno launched by the same company to mark the arrival of Android One, but has support for Hindi (hence the ‘H’). Xolo and Lenovo have made noises about their forthcoming Android One devices and how they would be different from the others but heck, we stopped asking them by December 2014.
Meanwhile, all the phone manufacturers who were part of the Android One launch in India, and others who were also part of the initiative, have been launching devices with better specs at price points that are within striking distance of the Android One range.
Honestly, much though we respect Google, we must confess that we are now sitting and wondering about whatever happened to the core idea of Android One – “budget devices running pure updated Android.” We have neither seen the updates nor any new devices. In fact, even the Android One advertisements (which many thought were life insurance ads anyway) have all but vanished from the airwaves and the manufacturers are no longer pushing their Android one devices. Significantly, when Micromax (a member of the Android One initiative and manufacturer of the Canvas A1, an Android One device) recently sent out a press release announcing that its Canvas range of devices would get updated to Android Lollipop, the first device to which it delivered the update was the Canvas Xpress A99, which has specs and a price similar to the launch price of the Canvas A1. No, the Canvas A1 was not mentioned in the release.
This after we had been assured that the Android One range would be among the first to get the Android 5.0 (Lollipop) update. Interestingly, the Android One devices in Philippines will evidently be launched with Android Lollipop (5.0) preinstalled or maybe even an updated version of it, 5.1. So now, we even have different versions of Android in the Android One series – as if there was not already enough Android fragmentation to go around. Round that off with the fact that we heard references to Android M at the Phillipines Android One launch and well, the mind just boggles.
We had said that Android One came with ‘noble intentions’ in our initial take on the subject, and in our review of the first round of Android devices had clearly stated:
if being updated to the latest version of Android all the time DOES matter to you, you would be hard pressed to find better options.
Five months down the line, with all four Android One devices in India STILL running on Android KitKat, and the likes of Lenovo, YU, Xiami, Xolo and Asus hitting the market with devices that have been better design and hardware, we must confess we are feeling a little silly. That chewing sound you hear? That’s us eating our words.
For, honestly, we really do not know where Android One is headed at the moment. And we really think that Google needs to push out those updates and also prod manufacturers for new devices fast, because there is a whole new breed of manufacturers that are coming out with Android devices with very innovative interfaces that actually are more feature rich and easy on the eye that the stock Android one sees on Android One and Nexus – Cyanogen on the Yureka, MIUI on the Xiaomi Redmi Note, and the Vibe UI on the Lenovo A6000 are only three examples. Honestly, after the launch of the likes of the A6000, the specs of the Android One range are beginning to look painfully mediocre. And as if that were not enough, Microsoft has come to the budget smartphone party with a vengeance with the likes of the Lumia 435.
Five months after its much hyped launched, Android One in India finds itself shorn of all the strengths that it had banked on:
- Android One devices no longer can claim to have decent hardware for their price, there are others in the market with comparable and even better hardware
- Android One devices have not been updated to the latest version of Android
- Even in terms of price, Android One devices are now facing significant challenges from the very manufacturers who are part of the Android One initiative (pardon us for tooting our horn once more, but we had warned this might happen)
Five months after Android One’s launch in India, the mood among those who bought devices is cynical. “Paisa waste kiya. Redmi 1S lena tha (I wasted my money. I should have bought a Redmi 1S),” snapped a college student who had purchased a Karbonn Sparkle V. He claims he is not even getting a decent resale value on the device even though it is still under warranty, and less than half a year old. Evidently, the Sparkle V, which was launched at approximately Rs 6400 is available online for Rs 4999 – a price drop of more than 20 per cent in five months.
And it is this cynicism that we think Google needs to address quickly. Through updates and more devices (preferably with better cameras, displays and storage). And both need to happen fast. If they don’t, Android One stands losing something much more important than market share.
Google needs to walk its Android One talk. Heck, even walking won’t do. It needs to sprint now.