Google's Android One program was supposed to change the developing world. It didn't the first time, so it's trying again.
A year ago, Google hoped that the billions of people who couldn't afford to own a smartphone finally could with an Android One device. For the next five billion, Google called it, and on paper it was a pretty sweet deal.
For just $100, first-time smartphone owners in India could own a high-quality device that not only ran the latest versions of Android with support directly from Google, but more importantly, would allow them access to the Internet and connect to the global community.
But that very community pretty much rejected Google's pipedream. Instead of reaching five billion people, only about 1.2 million Android One handsets actually shipped over the last year. In fact, only three Android One models were released from Google's hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice.
Besides going up against more deeply entrenched local smartphone vendors, other Indian phone-makers also found difficulty working with Google's mandated spec sheet. Then, Android One OEMs had a very short list of components and suppliers to choose from to make their handsets stand out from one another. In short, there wasn't much to differentiate early Android One handsets besides their design.
The Alphabet company can't do much about its competition, but it is relaxing its standards in its second attempt at the budget-friendly Indian smartphone market.
The first company that will be taking up that challenge and opportunity will be Lava. The Indian phone manufacturer, however, will have the final say over the price and specific hardware used in its version of an Android One device. For example, instead of only allowing one camera supplier to choose from, OEMs like Lava would now be able to choose from at least five. Also, Google is allowing Qualcomm's processors and not just those from MediaTek inside Android One handsets in the country.
Regardless of Google's second take at the Indian market, one manufacturer observes that there is still little difference between making an Android One phone and a regular Android phone. At best, manufacturers who support Android One would still receive assistance in making and promoting their Android One branded phones. For consumers, having Google's stamp of approval and promise of support could help seal the deal — maybe they just need more options this second time around.