Google creates 'optimized' Android for one smartphone — that will only be sold in India

No word on what this means for Android Go or Android One, but Indian mega-carrier Jio is excited about over-the-air updates, Google Assistant and more

Google has revealed that it has created an “optimised” version of Android designed specifically for one phone — a device to be launched in September by Indian carrier Jio. But the ads giant has not said what the new phone means for its other efforts to create a version of Android tailored to deployment in hardware at prices accessible for people in developing nations.

“Our teams have optimised a version of our Android OS especially for this device” wrote Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, adding that the device “will open up new possibilities for millions of new users who will experience the internet for the very first time”.

Another Google post and Jio’s statement on the matter state that the device will include the Play Store, multi-lingual Google Assistant, over-the-air updates, and an AI-infused camera. Jio’s own apps will be integrated with the Google Assistant.

The few photos released show the new phone has a conventional “black mirror and rounded rectangles” design.

Neither company has revealed the price of the device, beyond saying it will be sold “at an affordable price”.

Google already offers a cut-down version of Android called “Android Go” and pitches it as suitable for lower-specced-and-priced hardware, especially in developing nations. In 2014 Google also launched Android One with the intent of making sub-$100 smartphones sing. Android One has since migrated onto pricier hardware, but retains its friendliness by offering easy security updates - something makers of cheapies often ignore.

Just how Android Go and One differ from whatever “optimised” Android runs in a JioPhone Next has not been revealed.

One obvious difference is that Android Go and One are offered to all comers — Whatever Google has cooked up for Jio will be Jio’s alone.

The Register cannot recall Google creating a version of Android for a single carrier before, never mind a single handset.

Jio’s story may explain why Google has made the effort. The carrier launched in 2016 and has only ever offered 4G services and voice over LTE. That approach quickly won it over 400 million subscribers, making it the most popular mobile carrier in India.

Selling its own hardware with voice and data bundles was an important part of Jio’s success. The carrier currently sells the candy bar “JioPhone” feature phone for around $25, and the $40 “JioPhone 2” that resembles a Blackberry circa 2005 and can run some apps, but doesn’t offer a touch screen.

If the device is to deliver on Pichai’s promise of being compelling for first-time internet users, it will need to be offered at close to those prices. Or perhaps Pichai was saying that Jio’s current hardware doesn’t really represent a full internet experience.

Either way, Google seems to be betting that this new device will bring many millions of new users into its orbit. ®

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