Google’s next big bet to connect the next billion is called Android Oreo Go Edition, a special configuration of Android designed to make entry-level devices exciting again. Although its first attempt to connect the next billion through a wave of low-cost, quality mobile phones based around the Android ecosystem — aka Android One — failed to set the cash counters ringing, Google believes, there’s still hope. Only about half of the world’s 7.6 billion people are online, according to Google, and it can’t expect the rest of the lot — especially in markets like India — to look up to a high-end Pixel to get on-board. It’s still low-cost, quality mobile phones that they’re more likely to invest in, at least, during the initial run.
“For billions of people to get accessible computing there entry-level device has to be a fully-functional smartphone capable of browsing the web, and using apps. If Android runs well on entry-level hardware, it will allow the ecosystem to really innovate and bring more and more affordable devices (in future),” Sameer Samat, VP, product management, Play and Android, said while speaking with India Today Tech on the sidelines of Google for India.Read more ↓
“We are excited about Android Oreo Go Edition and the devices from our partners will be shipping in the next few months.”
Android Go is a re-packaged version of Android One with a re-packaged set of apps and features — with Android at its core — for bare-bone devices even as Android One now caters to slightly more premium hardware. Google admits that Android One (launched in 2014) did not receive the kind of response that it had hoped for but at the same time phones like the recently launched Xiaomi Mi A1 have sort of renewed interest in the platform, something that pushed the company into not giving up and bring Android Go as a fresh attempt to connect the masses.
Android Oreo Go Edition: More than the sum of its parts
Android Go, to recall, was first announced at Google I/O 2017, as a special configuration of Android Oreo (Android 8.1 and onwards) for entry-level handsets with less than 1GB of RAM. The aim, much like it is in the case of Android One devices, is to offer high-quality handsets with high-quality software at rock-bottom prices. Android One demands handsets to ship with 1GB and more of RAM, but Android Go handsets will be able to support RAM as low as 512MB.
“For users for whom the smartphone is their first and perhaps their only computing device, we really want that to be affordable. Affordability in different countries means different things but in each country we want to work with partners and telecom operators who can help bring that technology to everyone,” Samat reiterated.
Google notes that although Android Oreo Go Edition will be a scaled down version of Android you find in phones like the high-end Pixel, it still wouldn’t compromise much on functionality
Google notes that although Android Oreo Go Edition will be a scaled down version of Android you find in phones like the high-end Pixel, it still wouldn’t compromise much on functionality. In fact, Google is touting almost the same level of functionality, only scaled down furthermore to fit entry-level handsets with less than 1GB of RAM.
“We want these devices to not feel different from other Android devices. That’s why it’s another configuration of Oreo and not a different OS.”
Android Oreo Go Edition, according to Google can be broadly classified into three parts:
1. An improved operating system
2. A new set of Google apps that have been redesigned from ground up to work well not only on entry-level devices but also have uniquefeatures built into them for local needs
3. A version of the Play Store which allows you to download any app from the entire Play catalogue but also has new sections to highlight the apps from third-party developer ecosystem that perform well on entry-level devices
“Entry-level device users have to put up with slow performance as a norm. We wanted to see if we could make the experience better. So one of the things that we really spent time doing is optimising every piece of the operating system for entry-level devices and making sure that it runs well,” Samat said.
Although Google didn’t have to build Android One-specific apps, Google Go required the company to do more than just scale down the operating system. This means that although Android One devices run a more or less familiar version of Android with a more or less familiar version of Google apps, Android Go may be considered as a whole new ball-game. This is because, unlike Android One, Android Go is an operating system for devices with limited memory, storage, CPU horsepower, and connectivity. Also, because a lot of Android Go devices will be geared towards developing markets like India — where English isn’t necessarily the go-to language — the software needs to be bilingual, and ship with apps that support bilingualism.
“Opening an app is something that we do 10-15 times a day. If you can save even 1-2 seconds in each of those experiences, you can really add up. We’ve made opening apps 15 per cent faster on Go Edition devices and if you take all the entry-level Android phones that are out there today and if you imagine all of them were running Android Oreo Go Edition and they opened apps 15 per cent faster at the scale we’re working at, that would save the world a million hours of time every day.”
Google has re-worked on almost its entire suit of apps, including Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Play and more, for Android Go even as more and more developers are lending their support for the platform. Google notes that all Android Go devices will come pre-bundled with a Play Store that will house both kinds of apps: those designed/optimised specifically for Android Go and others that are not. Users can chose to download and install both kinds of apps but the user experience will vary from app to app, the company adds.
Take YouTube Go for instance. YouTube Go, which is essentially a toned-down version of the original YouTube app, is designed specifically to work on slow Internet. The YouTube Go app broadly focuses on four aspects: being offline-first, offering search relatability, cutting Internet usage costs and video sharing. The app seems to have been reworked from scratch and uses a different home screen and a new logo. It has a simple interface showing a total of ten videos by default (with a search more option below), to make sure users are not overwhelmed, to begin with.
Google has, at the same time, announced a new files app called Files Go and a new search app called Google Go that although have been designed for Android Go devices will also be available for standard Android devices from the Play Store. Apps like Gboard and Chrome, meanwhile, didn’t require a Go-specific version.
Android Oreo Go Edition, besides aiding in a smooth lag-free experience on bare-bone devices, will also ensure the software is relatively light on storage. Just like it has been designed for devices with less than 1GB of RAM, Google has said that devices with as low as 4GB and 8GB of internal storage are likely to benefit from the new OS.
Google’s playing relatively safe with Android Oreo Go Edition than it did with Android One
“Entry-level device users have to constantly uninstall things so they have some room left for instance, when they’re using the camera. Entry-level devices often have 4GB/8GB ROM and often these devices come with very little space remaining on the ROM because if you take the operating system and all the pre-loaded apps there’s not a lot of space remaining for the user and that’s a big problem. We Android Oreo Go, we really tried to change this. We optimised the operating system, we optimised the pre-loaded apps, and we reduced the size of Google’s own pre-loaded apps by optimising them to 50 per cent. Over all there’s twice as much storage space available on an Android Oreo Go Edition device.”
Android Oreo Go Edition: So many questions left unanswered
While Android One devices — back in the day — had little or no competition, Android Go will come at a different time. Google isn’t giving away any names of device manufacturers who are on-board for now but it would be interesting to see how Android Go holds up now that we have many entry-level phones with an upwards of 1GB of RAM in the market.
“There are many different hardware partners that we’re working with. Anyone who’s making an Oreo device that has between 512MB-1GB RAM will be using the Go configuration. So you can imagine there’s a huge range of device partners. They’ll be announcing their devices soon,” Samat stressed.
“There are lots of 1GB RAM devices being shipped today not only in India but also in other parts of the world: parts of Africa, even in Europe and also in the US. The number of 1GB RAM devices has actually been increasing simply because more and more people are now getting access to smartphone technology. Some people do build entry-level devices with 2GB and more RAM but often they are more mid-tier devices with higher price points,” he added.
But the age of the 1GB and more of RAM devices is already upon us. The fact that most of these devices are priced very aggressively means Android Go devices of the future will have to be even more aggressively priced to stand a chance. Which is one reason why Google isn’t giving away a stipulated price category for its upcoming Android Go phones.
At the same time, Google isn’t also giving away a time-line up to when Android Go devices will get major updates. Also, it has made it clear that software updates would depend a lot on device manufacturers at the end of the day, but we can expect the same level of treatment you get on a high-end Pixel.
“We started Go Edition with Oreo but we plan to continue Go Edition for future releases of Android as well so with Android P, you should expect a Go Edition as well. Updates will be handled in the same way as they’re handled on other Android Oreo devices meaning updates will happen based on the OEM (and the carrier). I don’t expect updates will happen any more or less frequently on these devices than the rest of Oreo devices.”
Google’s playing relatively safe with Android Oreo Go Edition than it did with Android One. The company is, in fact, not even showing any demo devices yet. It isn’t showing off names of manufacturers that it has on-board, and it isn’t promising software updates by the dozen. Although Android Go seems to be a distant pipe-dream for now — unless we have a couple of odd devices out in the market — Google’s continued (and renewed) quest to make entry-level phones exciting is certainly good news for first-time smartphone users.
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