With Android One, Google prepares for a Silver future

Daniel Bader

July 4, 2014 8:06 pm

One of the most important announcements made during Google I/O last week was also one of the least-reported.

Android One, a reference platform for manufacturers looking to create high-performance, low-cost devices in developing countries, will see Google working with three Indian manufacturers on a pilot project to deliver better sub-$100 smartphones.

The idea is sound: low-cost Android devices are often missing Google certification, and don’t have access to the Play Store. They also tarnish Android’s reputation by delivering poor performance, app incompatibility, security holes and, increasing, malware. With Android One, Google will offer turnkey hardware designs, along with a stock Android experience, that will make it significantly easier for OEMs to focus on building feature-filled hardware without worrying about tuning the software.

Possibly the most important aspect of this deal is Google’s active participation: the company will update the devices directly, eschewing the oft-inconsistent OEM and carrier tuning process. This is significant because it will be the first time Google has committed to software updates from a non-Nexus device, and it also points to a new place for the company in the typically hands-off updating cycle.

Which leads us to Android Silver, the rumoured successor the company’s Nexus program. Later this year or early next, Google is expected to announce a deal with manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony and others to create great hardware experiences, updated directly by Google, without the burden of having to worry about modifying Android to differentiate. While OEMs will almost certainly continue to fashion customized Android hardware for carriers, Android Silver devices will be an entirely separate entity, marketed as a premium, unsullied vision of what Android should be.

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Nexus, while relatively well-known among tech enthusiasts, has never been a commercial success. With the introduction of Android L, a deliberate and beautiful user interface with a stricter set of development guidelines called Material Design, Google has added incentive to push stock Android into more palms. Sundar Pichai, without disrupting the OEM-friendly trajectory that Android’s open-sourced nature has taken, may use Android Silver as a way to push its own design agenda. And, much like Samsung has proven by releasing an Android Wear device in addition to wearables running its own proprietary software, manufacturers will likely create both, because it will be easy to do so.

While Android Silver sounds similar to what happens today with the growing number of Google Play Edition devices, it appears to differ in two important ways: first, updates will come direct from Google, as opposed to the slightly modified versions of stock Android created and distributed by the manufacturers themselves; and it will contain a carrier-centric retail push, similar to the way regular Android devices are sold in stores today.

Disclaimer: Android Silver is a sure thing, but what form it will take is still unknown. These are educated guesses based on what we know, along with trends we’ve seen from Google over the past year.

  • silver_arrow

    This is, in my opinion huge. Yes companies are making high end devices like the G3, S5 and M8 and next year there will be the S6, G4 and M9. However they keep putting in unneeded features just to help justify the premium price.

    There are more and more devices like the Moto G coming out which has the specs and features that are fine for 90% of people but at a fraction of the price. This is where the future of mobile is and it’s exciting.

    • Jonathan Ingravalle

      I agree with you, but you can’t deny the awesomeness of the HTC M8. It’s probably the best Android phone I’ve ever used and I much prefer Sense 6 to stock (getting boring).

    • silver_arrow

      Oh I know they are some great devices but look at the Moto G and then remind yourself that the M8 is almost the cost of 5 Moto G’s

    • Jonathan Ingravalle

      Yeah I also have a Moto G and I sell it all the time for Koodo and Virgin. It’s an excellent budget phone, but the camera and storage are lacking. Most customers these days want a good camera, a bigger screen, or they just take an iPhone.

    • silver_arrow

      I think the addition of the Micro SD card in the LTE version really makes it a much better device. 8 gigs is a bit on the low sides for pictures and everything else.

    • AGoodM8

      Even with an SD slot, I’d personally like to have more than 8 GB of internal storage because it runs faster than external. Also the camera is…. Well not very impressive. That said, the G is amazing for the price, no doubt

    • AGoodM8

      In fairness to stock .. Android L should make things a little more interesting. I am looking forward to it. Hopefully this major update will make its way to us Nexus 4 users.

    • MikeOxlong

      It will. Google has basically confirmed it, along with the older nexus 7 and 10.

    • AGoodM8

      So I’ve heard. It seems probable, but you never know.. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • MikeOxlong

      Don’t be so pessimistic. Google just finished reaffirming this last week, along with AGAIN explaining why it was not possible to continue development on original nexus. Its not like their just talking out their a*s publicly for shits and giggles…

    • AGoodM8

      Google has not provided an official announcement yet as far as I’m aware. I’d be interested to hear what they say officially.

    • AGoodM8

      I saw that exact article, there’s no official statement by Google anywhere in there. Also, here’s an important excerpt from the article:

      “It looks like all of the recent Nexus devices are covered – everything from the 2012 Nexus 7 up through to the Nexus 5. Of course, just because branches have been published for these devices, it is not absolute confirmation that this entire list of devices will receive an official L release. Nothing is certain until Google releases OTAs and/or factory images.”

      While this article made me more confident about Google’s commitment to updating older devices with the Android L release, that quote suggests there isn’t enough evidence that getting L on the N4/2012 N7 is a 100% slam dunk. At least not yet..

    • MikeOxlong

      Well, you can go try the preview on your n4 now… Seems to be working as good as on the n5 according to user reports.

    • marorun1982

      Or to bloated Touchwiz…

    • It’s Me

      Completely agree. For a few years, the highest growth area for Android has been in the budget category around the world. Android One will help push these devices to be better and consistent. This can only help Android as it continues to push into developing markets and low income markets.

    • ShadowFist23

      What’s more, the whole thing about the Developer Edition Nexus devices is that they’re top of the line, cutting edge devices.

      Most people don’t have those kinds of devices, and developing on them skews performance towards smooth on the high end and poor on the mid and low end, which is problematic for anyone without a high end phone and also for developers who want to be sure they reach a wide market.

      Making an official “standard” Android device that is mid-to low range is a brilliant move in this regard.

  • mhee

    With Android Silver, I hope to see the gap between budget and premium smartphones come to an end. I personally don’t want to pay $80-90 a month on a device I just want to text or use as an IRC client. However, I want to have a nice screen with decent power. My HTC Incredible S chugged on Swiftkeys! Hopefully, Phones like Android One or the Moto G are that Compromise between me and the manufacturers for powerful phones for affordable prices.

    I’m happy that the Android One is actually competitive for 3rd world countries. after the end of Nokia phones for developing countries, there hasn’t been a landmark phone that’s affordable. The iPhone 5c failed horribly for a value phone, and Blackberry is re-releasing the 9900 for the same price 3 years ago! If Google plays their cards right, I can see a brighter future for affordable and powerful phones worldwide.

    • zphantomeye

      My sis is still using the Incredible S :P, trying to find her a cheap new phone outright

    • AGoodM8

      Moto G or Nexus 5, hands down the best two options for value devices off contract depending on your preferences.

    • marorun1982

      And i want the Gap between a Lamborgini and a Lada to come to an end but we need to be realistic here…

      Now to have thats Gap reduced a bit would be nice.. 600$ max for high end 400$ max for mid end and 200$ max for low end would be more logical ( the manufacturing price is not thats different between them)

      Samsung S4 mini cost about 160$ to make the S4 cost about 220$ so its logical thats price scale up but today its way abused.

  • Handheld Addict

    The problem is stock Android is not a complete phone OS. Google has shown it is incompetent at making a camera app, let alone one that could rival the ones from OEMs. Awesome, a Galaxy S5 with crappy camera UI, a LG G3 with no knock on, etc. Why would anyone want to buy a Google version of a phone with missing features compared to the same phone offered by the OEM?

    How can Android silver address these problems? Yes, more camera apps are being offered as standalone, but there are also other OEM-specific features that can’t be added piece by piece or “made to order”.

    • Tuan Bui

      Theyre not “missing” features, they’re add-ons that OEM use to separate themselves from stock or vanilla android. I prefer stock android over skins any day. No lags and no gimmicks. You can now download camera apps from HTC, Sony and etc.

    • AGoodM8

      My preference also lies with stock. Sure, it’s a little plain but it has an intuitive interface and will continue to get new (useful) features baked in. OEMs just install loads of crap, some of which is useless, with no option for the end user to remove it without rooting and installing a custom ROM. That causes more lag assuming h/w internals etc are equal, more clutter, less internal storage space (external storage is convenient but it runs slower than internal NAND flash memory so less internal space is inherently worse). Etc.

      At least with stock, you have the option to simply add the features you want. The Google Play store has 1.5 million apps now.

      In response to Handheld Addict… You raised some valid points, but keep in mind GS5 and One M8, etc were designed with their respective OEM’s skins in mind as opposed to stock. Hardware designed to run stock, like the Nexus line, is a different story – they are better optimized for it. For this reason, I certainly hope the rumored silver program is closer to Nexus than GPe.

    • Tuan Bui

      I wouldn’t even mind the gpe if it ever see the light of day here in Canada. The M8 running stock android while maintaining those speaker grills, it’s a beautiful thing. Just can’t really do much with the 4mp ultra pixel.. But yeah, I’m hoping android silver or Android one makes it to Canada lol.

    • AGoodM8

      Oh GPe is good no doubt. It is as you said, M8 running stock is drool worthy except for the camera.

      I just want there to be more devices that are built with pure Android in mind.

    • TrainAss

      Do you have an M8? I converted mine to GPE yesterday. Runs better than before!

    • Tuan Bui

      I’m trying to trade my note 3 for the m8. Did you rooted and put a custom Rom? Or launcher?

    • TrainAss

      I’ve rooted mine, S-Off and have it fully converted to a Google Play Edition rom. I can get official OTA updates as well.

    • marorun1982

      It’s been proven thats allmost all OEM-Spécific features can be added piece by piece.

      My Sony Z1 OEM made apps all are all updated by the Sony update applications.
      ANY features from the manufacturer can be done by app downloaded.

      The knock on feature is in fact a feature in Qualcomm chipset lol…

      What Android Silver can do is take charge of all the OS itself the core of the os the API ect then OEM can add special access to OEM only device for more OEM spécific app and features..

      Thats the solution.. After all Android is probably the most modular Mobile OS ever created and i know its fully possible to do it.

    • ShadowFist23

      The average user doesn’t care much about these things. The kind of user that will buy a sub-$100 phone cares even less.

  • Rob

    Sadly, google stole my idea for this project