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Android One Is Launching in India, but It's a Big Deal for Everyone

Android One represents yet another move by Google to see if it can find a business model that gives it tighter control over the experience on Android devices.

While $100 smartphones have been around for a while now, the Android One phones debuting in India on Monday mark a key development in the smartphone industry.

It’s not just the fact that the devices pack big color screens and the latest version of Android, though that’s an impressive feat.

What’s most notable about the Android One program is the degree to which Google is flexing its muscles — retaining control over the exact operating-system image that gets loaded on the device, as well as when that software is updated.

Google is also shifting the balance of power by partnering with smaller chipmakers and lesser-known phone makers. In India, for example, Google is working with regional brands like Micromax and Karbonn, rather than the large global brands.

In doing so, Google is turning up the heat on the rest of the industry, showing how much can be done for just $100. Even if Google keeps the Android One focus on emerging markets like India, it could be bad news for the big brands in mobile — companies like Qualcomm, Samsung and Motorola, and maybe even for Chinese low-cost brands like ZTE and Huawei.

But this is hardly the only program where Google has been testing whether it can build a business around Android phones, over which it has more control. Its Nexus program is similar to Android One, though aimed more at upper-midrange devices, while Google has also sold stock Android “Google Play” editions of high-end phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S or HTC’s One.

With Android Wear, Google has also taken a hard line, essentially forcing all device makers to load the same software, and forcing device makers to essentially compete on hardware choices.

The company has also been working on a program called Android Silver, which would see participating phone makers get marketing muscle from Google, but agree to limits on the pieces of the software they could customize.

Plans for Android One were first detailed at June’s I/O developer conference. Google has scheduled a press conference in India on Monday to formally launch the first crop of devices.

Update (Sept. 15, 5:55 am PT): Google posted more details about the launch including plans for different configurations. The first phones will sell for 6,399 rupees ($104.67 U.S.) starting today. More hardware partners have also joined the Android One program. They include phone manufacturers Acer, Alcatel, Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo and chipmaker Qualcomm. Google is also extending the program to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia by the end of the year and more countries next year.

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