Earlier this year at Google I/O, Google unveiled the Android One program, which is meant to help the "next 5 billion" non-smartphone users join the ranks of smartphone users for around $100 or less, while still enjoying a great experience and getting updates directly from Google. There are already Android smartphones that sell for $50 or less, but with Android One Google is trying to provide a certain level of users experience that it thinks all Android users should have.
Today, Google unveiled the first such phones, starting at only $105 (Rs 6399), from Indian manufacturers like Micromax, Karbonn and Spice and chip maker Mediatek. These companies are now beginning to sell smartphones which share certain hardware features such as a 4.5" screen, 1 GB of RAM, 5MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, dual-SIM slots, microSD support and FM radio.
The first batch of handsets from these three manufacturers also seems to use the same quad-core 1.3 GHz Mediatek processor (Cortex A7-based), although this is not part of the Android One requirements. More Android One phones will come later that will also include Qualcomm processors (perhaps even the recently announced LTE-capable Snapdragon 210 and Snapdragon 410 chips).
Google says it has partnered with carrier Airtel from India to upgrade these smartphones over the air for free in the next 6 months to the Android L version and whatever bug fixes may come after that. It's not clear from Google's announcement if the upgrades to Android One devices will completely stop after that period has passed, or if users could only get the updates over Wi-Fi for free as opposed to downloading them through the 3G network (will cost them typical data rates).
Google will also be offering 200 MB of data for free to all Android One customers, which can be used to download roughly 50 apps from the Play Store. These free data deals can help Indian customers use the Android One smartphones for something other than just making phone calls. This is part of the reason Google is also pushing for these low-end phones to have at least a 4.5" screen, whereas before we could see smartphones at such prices coming out with small 3.2" screens.
As we've recently learned, the bigger the screen, the more engaged the user becomes with the smartphone. That's good for customers, since they get more value out of their devices, but it's also good for Google because more people use more apps and visit more websites, which means advertising revenue for the company.
Google plans to expand the program to the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014 as well as more countries next year. HTC, Asus, Acer, Panasonic and Lenovo will also be joining the program to make Android One handsets.