Every year at Google I/O, we get to see what’s going to be the next big thing for Android, an operating system that is currently on 2 billion devices across the planet. However, the operating system remains out of reach for a vast majority of the population, due to economic constraints. Components like RAM play a big role in driving the cost of a phone up, and a device running on insufficient RAM will never be able to give the smooth, fluid user experience that we have come to expect. Google understands these challenges and has announced today Android GO, an optimised version of Android that will empower the next several billion people
What is Android GO
Android Go is a new OS from Google that will run on hardware with 1GB of RAM or less. Google had attempted something similar a few years ago with Android 1, but this is a different approach. Android GO focuses on three things; optimising the latest release of Android to run smoothly on entry-level devices, a rebuilt set of Google apps that use less space, data and memory and lastly, a customised app store that contains all the usual apps, but highlights the Android Go optimised apps.
The Operating System
Since component pricing will not go down beyond a point, making cheaper devices means cutting down on the specification set. Google is making optimisations to the software code and the kernel to enable entry-level devices to run smoothly with RAM as low as 512MB. Unlike Android 1 which felt like a whole different experience, Android GO will be an optimised version of the latest Android OS, in this case, Android O.
Google is putting data management at the forefront of Android GO devices. They’ve put the data management console right in the quick settings bar and are also including a data top-up button in the settings, provided your carrier supports it. Google’s data saver mode on Chrome is already saving a whopping 750TB of data per day for users around the world, and this feature will come enabled by default on Google Chrome that’s built into Android GO. YouTube already has a data conscious app available called YouTube GO, that allows users in data-deprived areas to be judicious with how they use the video streaming service. YouTube Go will come built-in with this OS and will allow users to scrub through a series of previews of the video before they play it, along with the app letting them know how much data will be consumed for viewing the video. Users can also download the video onto their phones and transfer it to other YouTube GO users wireless. YouTube Go is already available in the Google Play Store.
Multilingual to connect the masses
Part of connecting the next several billion people also includes getting them to be a part of the global conversations. Not everyone speaks English or Hindi and Google understands the challenges of lingual barriers. Android GO comes with the Gboard keyboard with multi-lingual supper built-in. It will also be able to transliterate, which means you can type in English and the keyboard will convert it to one of the languages you choose (as long as its supported). There is also a translation feature built right into the keyboard. Nuance aside, the transliteration and translation features would greatly impact the way we connect with people who do not speak the same language as us.
Why Android GO Matters
In today’s times, Android and iOS are the only two mainstream smartphone operating systems in existence. While Apple has a completely different target audience, Google is trying to increase its user base by not making devices any cheaper, but rather, by improving the user experience that people will get from cheap devices. India with its population of 1.3 billion citizens has seen a massive growth in smartphone adoption in the last eight months thanks to Reliance Jio. However, a large chunk of the users end up buying phones that offer sub-par user experience. With Android GO, Google could change all that, making a budget smartphone not feel like a compromise between price and performance.
The challenges to Android GO
From the announcement, it seems that the first round of Android GO devices will be made specifically for the slimmed down OS. We’re not sure if this will be similar to how Google approached the Android 1 devices or whether Google will allow manufacturers to pick and choose which of their devices ship with which version of the OS. We’re not even sure at this point whether Android GO devices will be made by Google or would OEM partners get on board as well. While Google’s focus on performance and user experience is great, it would be a shame if these devices were not 4G enabled. India, in particular, has seen an unprecedented growth in 4G adoption over the last year and leaving out a 4G radio from the smartphone would dampen the impact of Android GO devices. Having access to little data does not mean that data is not being transmitted over 4G. With Reliance Jio spreading its 4G network across the country like wildfire, we can only hope that whoever is making the Android GO compatible devices ensures they are 4G enabled.
When does it come out
Google has announced Android GO today at Google I/O with only a statement that the first devices will ship in 2018. What was a relief to hear was that unlike Android 1, which was a separate entity, every version of Android to be released will also come with an Android GO variant. This means that users will be able to enjoy many of the features of the latest Android operating system without any performance issues they’d otherwise experience had they installed the full-blown version of Android. We expect to see the final build of Android O ship when the next Google Pixel is announced and hopefully, we will see a release of Android GO around then as well.