Google resurrected its Android One programme in India on Tuesday, when it found a new partner in Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi willing to launch a mid-tier stock Android-powered Mi A1 smartphone. But in doing so, it may have further blurred what Android One stands for.
Make no mistake, Xiaomi Mi A1 runs a fairly new Android 7.1.2 operating system, and Google and the Chinese company have committed to bring Android Oreo software update to the phone and have even promised the Android P update next year. The phone also features Google Now launcher, a major departure from MIUI that powers all other Xiaomi's Android smartphones. Many customers are going to appreciate it. In our testing, we ourselves were quite impressed with just how fast the Snapdragon 625-powered phone handled day to day operations.
But the new phone fails to deliver on one promise that Android One was originally marketed with: It is not pure Android. Xiaomi is including three apps pre-installed on the phone, it confirmed at its event on Tuesday. The three apps are: its camera app, Mi Store shopping portal, and Mi Remote app. This is a departure from the "consistent experience" that Google aims to deliver through all Android One phones since Android One smartphones manufactured by other companies will certainly not include Xiaomi's apps. The first round of Android Phones launched in India had apps of their respective e-commerce partners pre-installed, but none by the OEM partners themselves. So is this a start of a new trend?
In a conversation with Gadgets 360, Jon Gold, global director of Android programs, said the apps were added because Google saw value in them. "We have recognised that there are really unique things that our partners do that should also be part of our experience. Like the camera app, for one. We think there is a great marriage where you take core part of Android from Google and add integrations that are clearly value addition," he said.
So what does that marriage look like in the context of Android One? Gold said, "the phone offers standard UI, which is the Google Launcher, it's going to get more frequent security updates, it's going to get better upgrades." Adding, "it is a device that Google is standing behind."
That's an odd description from Android-maker which works with over 600 OEMs for Google Mobile Services-enabled smartphones. Does it not stand behind smartphones made by partners that have not enrolled themselves for Android One programme? Also, smartphone manufacturers will always find their homegrown apps as ‘essential' and would want those to be added in their rendition of Android One devices. What happens to the user experience in that case?
The increased ‘flexibility’ in standards might be a way of getting from manufacturers interested in the Android One programme. On the sidelines of I/O developer conference earlier this year where the company announced Android Go programme, an initiative which it described as "evolution of Android," an executive had confirmed that Google had stopped mandating hardware requirements from OEMs for Android One smartphones. Inclusion of apps from the smartphone manufacture today further implies that Google is willing to bend more rules. In a year or two, Android One might have a completely different meaning.