Android Go is a lightweight version of the upcoming Android O with apps and Play Store that are optimized. Android Go is designed for devices with very low specs and limited connectivity. It can run on devices with less than 1 GB of memory – and in some cases 512 MB. Android Go apps will be less than 10 MB in size and work smoothly.
Who Talked About The Next Billions First Years Ago?
Google calls it “Building for Billions on Android”. Sounds pretty much like Nokia’s “Next Billion” project back in 2010 via its smartphones and Ovi Life Tools. Like Nokia did back then, Google acknowledges that reaching the billions of subscribers worldwide means making an OS that is not so resource hungry and that does not guzzle data.
As such, data management will also be key in Android Go. Users will be able to check out data use directly on its notification settings panel. Users will be able to buy data plans directly from their phones, thanks to an open API that enables network operators to add that feature.
Google is also redesigning many of its own apps to use less memory, storage space, and mobile data, including Chrome, Gboard, YouTube Go, and Play Store. Going forward, all versions of Android from Android O will have an Android Go variant. Android Go is expected to start shipping in 2018.
Android Go: An Operating System for Emerging Markets
The motive for Android Go is noble. You probably already know how much of a resource hog and data guzzler Android OS is. With Nougat, for example, devices with 2 GB of RAM still suffer lag during UI transitions, especially when switching between apps. Meanwhile, Apple’s latest, the iPhone 7 purrs smoothly on just 2 GB of RAM (the bigger 7 Plus runs 3 GB of RAM). Up to 40 current Android flagships are falling head over heels to run smooth on 4 to 8 GB of RAM – and the iPhone flagships still beat most of them. Android OS desperately needs to become more resource efficient.
We have been discussing the issues of Android’s resource hogging and data guzzling for years – and as far back as 2012, data guzzling was the core of an article of mine, A first world smartphone for third world mobile networks. In that article, I quoted PhoneBoy as saying:
The company who can build a first world Smartphone for a third world mobile network will get the next billion users.
His experience when travelling outside the USA was that his Symbian devices performed better because they were not constantly connected and ran smoothly on low bandwidth. I agreed with PhoneBoy then. I still agree till now. It turns out that Google now agrees too, because that is exactly what the Android One announcement says.
Android Go Takes The Baton From Symbian and BlackBerry
I also mentioned in that article that Symbian OS used to be the standard for smartphones that are not power and data hungry. BlackBerry OS (not Blackberry 10) used to meet that condition. Both are history now, and now Google has admitted, with the announcement of Android Go, that Android OS in its current form is incapable of delivering the next billion users.
You see, Google tried it with Android OS – and it failed. Remember Android One? Aha. The one that came, saw and was conquered. Regular Android on budget smartphones didn’t work out. I recall having a discussion with a representative from an OEM and he said to me that they were unimpressed with the results of their Android One smartphone. The OEM has not released another phone under that project since then. Let’s bury the dead: Android One is dead.
If you are interested, here is the complete list of all Android One smartphones that have been released into the market as at November 2016.
Smartphone Market Is Saturated
Emerging markets are a different kettle of fish from what Android OS can handle. Plus, the smartphone market is saturated in most of the rest of the world. Here’s the part that many people are unwilling to admit: smartphone adoption in emerging markets has plateaued too.
In all, globally, smartphones have about 50% market share and feature phones have the other half. And smartphone adoption has slowed down to a crawl. Suddenly, Google sees that Android OS is not fit to tackle that other feature-phone wielding half of the mobile world. In the words of the famous musician, Cobhams Asuquo, What to do?
Answer: a stripped down version of Android. Android Lite, if you please. Repeat after me: Android Go.
Android Go: Another Fork In The Road
This new version of Android OS is fork. It is an answer to a big question. What is troublesome is that it will require developers to come up with a separate version of their apps for smartphones that run it. What is the incentive?
With Android Go, developers have to create two sets of apps – regular (read: bloated) and lite. I am a fan of lite apps, but this sounds like overkill or I am just over-analyzing. We already have Shazam Lite, Facebook Lite, Skype Lite, Twitter Lite, and Youtube Go, Messenger Lite, among others.
The already existing lite apps are from big names. That is understandable. Those brands can afford the resources. But how much time and resources do smaller developers have to devote to creating lite apps for Android Go? Time will tell.
Then, there is the huge possibility that Android Go will only make the fragmentation issues of Android OS worse. This becomes another fork in the road for the OS. So, I found myself asking questions. Why not build the Android Go features into Android O? Why not add YouTube Go features into the main YouTube app? Can Google not just make Android much less of a data-guzzler and resource hog?
Why not just unbloat Android OS and Android apps and let’s all sing Kumbaya?
On Your Marks; Get Set; Android Go!
A lean OS, lite apps and built-in data management are all great to have, but the feature that will be the icing on the cake is if the OS itself is not built to be always online. With a phone running Symbian OS, the phone connects to the internet only when the user carries out an action that requires an internet connection. An always on connection, as is standard in iOS and Android OS, is bad for battery and for data consumption. I am not holding my breath that Google will implement this in Android Go though. Google wants you always online. Oh well.
One thing is for sure, Android OS in its current state is incapable of meeting the needs of the other half of the mobile world that still holds dearly to feature phones. That market outside of the reach of Google is huge and the Android maker wants a big piece of it. Consider that 4G feature phones are already on the way – and they are not a part of Google’s empire. The emperor will have none of that. Google is smart.