No matter how much I am excited about seeing a stock Android smartphone from Xiaomi, the so-called second innings of the Android One is ill-conceived. The program is no longer relevant and is bound to fail again.
Google says it got the timing wrong when it originally introduced the Android One platform in 2014. I differ, the timing was great, it was the implementation that sucked. In 2014, every manufacturer was stuffing their devices with custom user-interfaces to differentiate. There was so much competition and hardware innovation takes time, so the companies opted for the seemingly lazier route – custom UI. Which not only hampered the device user-experience, also made releasing Android updates a slow and cumbersome process. Rolling out device updates was even more difficult for the regional and smaller smartphone makers, who were mostly buying phones from white label Chinese or Taiwanese manufacturers. They had limited R&D resources and were in no condition to release Android updates. This was a frustrating experience for the consumers as they were not getting new features and security updates on time and in worst cases ‘never’.
So, Google came up with the Android One project, which would allow the smaller phone makers in developing markets to launch devices with a specific set of specifications and the latest version of Android. Google would then provide the future Android updates. The plan was great on paper, but the whole idea of one size fits all was the biggest problem with the Android One program. At its inception, there were three smartphone brands selling pretty much the same device at the same price-point. This was not only confusing for the consumers; the brands also had no way to differentiate and market their own Android One phones. So, apart from some sad marketing from the brands and Google, everyone quickly forgot Android One in the country. Lava followed up with another Android One phone – Pixel V1 in 2015, but the device did nothing to revive the Android One platform.
Now, Google is coming back with the second innings of the Android One and claims to have found a fix for the flaws that plagued the original Android One implementation. While that may be true, the consumers simply no longer need Android One. The smartphone makers have learnt a lot in the past few years and they have adapted. They are no longer running after custom user interfaces like they did in the past. Still, the companies like Samsung, LG and some more like to tweak the UI on their Android phones, but these brands have the muscle power to update their UI for the future Android versions. They provide software updates now, although not everyone is still lucky, but if you bought a fairly popular smartphone, chances are that you will get at least one major Android update. Others like Motorola, Lenovo, and Nokia have now started proudly unveiling stock Android phones and boast the advantages of stock UI in their press events. I remember watching the Lenovo K8 Plus launch event today and the way Lenovo India marketing guy was talking about the stock Android, you would not think that it is the same company which used to stuff its phones with bloated Vibe UI.
The consumers have a lot more choice in 2017 than what they had in 2014. The Android One platform today offers no incentive apart from probably a guaranteed Android P update to go for it. But Android P is very far and I doubt a layperson is going to buy an Android One phone for that. There are plenty of amazing stock Android phones in the Indian market today, which offer great value for money. Even those without stock Android no longer look that bad of a deal like they did in the past.
Android One is no longer a value-add. Android One buyers will no longer get Android updates with Nexus/ Pixel phones, these phones are not cheap and they don’t outperform other phones in terms of value for money. There is simply no space for Android One in the Indian market of 2017 and which is why it will bite the dust yet again.
PS: Does this mean Xiaomi Mi A1 will fail?
No, Mi A1 is a great device on its own and it doesn’t need the Android One sticker to sell. I am sure there are plenty of Xiaomi fanboys out there who would buy Mi A1 regardless of what it included – MIUI or stock Android. Mi A1’s success is not Android One’s success.