Google is introducing a line of low-cost Android One smartphones in India to make phones and mobile service more affordable to some 5 billion people around the world who aren't yet smartphone users.
The Android One initiative was unveiled by Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, in a Sept. 15 post on the Google Official Blog.
"Knowledge is a game changer," wrote Pichai. "I've long been inspired by the Internet and how it opens the doors to opportunity. It provides access to knowledge, no matter who you are or where you are. For instance, it doesn't matter if you're a Nobel Laureate at a world-class research center or a young student at a rural school in Indonesia, with Google Search, you have the same information at your fingertips as anyone else."
That's where Google's new Android One phones come in, wrote Pichai. "If we look at how people are getting online and accessing information today, increasingly, it's through a smartphone. While 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smartphone, the vast majority of the world's population—over 5 billion more—do not. That means most people are only able to make simple voice calls, rather than connect with family through a live video chat, use mapping apps to find the closest hospital, or simply search the Web. We want to bring these experiences to more people."
To make this viable, Google is introducing the new Android One phones, which were first discussed at this year's Google I/O developer conference, in India first in an effort to make high-quality smartphones accessible to as many people as possible, he wrote.
In the past, in countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines, high costs for hardware and for cellular phone and data plans have been barriers for prospective users, many of whom only earn average monthly incomes around $250, wrote Pichai. Android One eats away at those challenges by incorporating proven, lower-cost components to build phones that cost far less than the latest devices, while still providing excellent features and service for users, he wrote.
"They have lots of processing power, so you can get information quickly," he wrote. "They have high-quality front- and rear-facing cameras. And for all those pictures, along with your apps and videos, Android One phones will have expandable storage. We also added features that people in India will find particularly useful, like dual SIM cards, a replaceable battery and built-in FM radio."
The new phones will also get the latest versions of Android directly from Google so that users have the latest applications, security patches and other benefits, he explained. "It also means Android One devices will be some of the first to be updated to the Android L release later this year. For our hardware partners, they'll be able to create customized experiences and differentiate their devices without having to change the core software."
The first phones are available starting today in India from Google hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and chip maker MediaTek, according to Pichai. "We're also excited to welcome more partners to the program, including phone manufacturers Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, Asus, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and chip maker Qualcomm. We expect to see even more high-quality, affordable devices with different screen sizes, colors, hardware configurations and customized software experiences."
In the future, Google will expand the new Android One phone program to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, by the end of the year, he wrote. More countries will follow in 2015.
"Access for access' sake is not enough," wrote Pichai. "With Android One, we not only want to help people get online, we want to make sure that when they get there, they can tap into the wealth of information and knowledge the Web holds for everyone."
A Google spokesman declined to comment further on the Android One phones in response to an eWEEK inquiry.
New Android phones are always hitting the market to bring consumers new features and styles. In August in the United States, Alcatel's new OneTouch Fierce 2 and Evolve 2 models for Android were unveiled by T-Mobile.
The Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 is available for $126 or $5.25 a month for 24 months on an installment plan, according to T-Mobile. The Fierce 2 includes a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and a 5-inch qHD (quarter-high-definition) display, and is 4G-enabled. The new Alcatel OneTouch Evolve 2 handset is an entry-level $79 smartphone that can also be purchased for $3.30 a month on an installment plan for 24 months, according to T-Mobile. The 3G-enabled Evolve 2 runs Android KitKat and includes a 4-inch WVGA touch-screen and a 5MP camera.