Tech enthusiasts drool like Pavlov’s dogs at the mere hint of a new $1,000 phone from Apple or LG or Samsung, but in reality, many people don’t buy flagship phones. But even inexpensive phones should be great too, right? That is the theory behind Android Go — and at MWC 2018, Google unveiled a wave of phones supporting the platform. Here’s everything you need to know.
Aren’t there lots of versions of Android already? Why build yet another?
In developing markets like India and Brazil, smartphone infrastructure is the biggest barrier to the adoption of online services, not handset ownership. Hundreds of millions of people in India use Android phones — more than in the United States, Google says — but they suffer from expensive, spotty networks that make it difficult to reliably access the web. To address that problem, in May 2017 Google launched Android Go: A new platform for bandwidth-optimized apps.
In addition to emerging markets, Android Go benefits many U.S. users as well. At Google’s 2018 developer conference, Google I/O, the tech giant announced the U.S. is the second largest market for Android Go devices. In fact, 25 percent of the 300 million entry-level smartphones currently in the market are in the U.S.
“Part of Android’s mission is to bring computing to everyone,” Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering, said in a blog post. “We’re excited about seeing more users come online for the first time as the price of entry-level smartphones drop, and we want to help manufacturers continue to offer lower-cost devices that provide a great experience for these users.”
In December, Google officially launched the platform at a Google For India 2017 press conference. And at the 2018 Mobile World Congress event, we saw several phones running Android Go.
OK, so how does it work?
Android Go was designed from the get-go with slower, low-memory devices in mind, Google said. It ships on Android smartphones with 1GB of RAM or less and exposes device-level connectivity settings to internet subscribers. Carriers can let people top up their data in their phone’s settings menu, and Chrome Data Saver — Google’s traffic-saving tool that uses proxy servers, compression, and machine intelligence to cut down on the amount of data consumed by web pages — will be switched on by default.
Google said Data Saver alone helps to save 750 terabytes of traffic every day.
Android Go will also collate Google’s other low-bandwidth offerings in a new section of the Google Play Store. And while Android Go smartphones will ship with the Google Play Store optimized for Android Go devices, users are not restricted to Go or light apps.
What did we see at MWC then?
Google took the wraps off of a number of phones at MWC 2018, including a few that we didn’t expect to see. Some companies also teased that they would be releasing Android Go phones at some point in the future — like Huawei, which said at the show that it would bring an Android Go phone to “all major emerging markets” in the near future.
As far as specific phone models go, we saw a few of them. For starters, the Alcatel 1X was released as one model in Alcatel’s new lineup. We also met the Go-powered ZTE Tempo Go, and saw Nokia introduce the Nokia 1 — a $100 smartphone that is perfect for Android Go. There is also the Micromax Bharat Go, and the General Mobile GM8 Go, phones that we expected to see at MWC but didn’t know all that much about just yet. The Lava International Lava Z50 will also be released in around 100,000 stores in India.
In a blog post announcing general plans for the show, Hiroshi Lockheimer — the senior vice president of Platforms and Ecosystems — offered some clarification on Go apps and services — and tied Go closely to Android 8.0 Oreo.
“With Android Oreo (Go edition), these phones are able to provide a high-quality experience, with the latest version of Android, Google Play Protect, and dedicated areas in Google Play highlighting apps optimized for Go edition. Android Oreo (Go edition) phones also include a set of apps from Google that are designed to use less memory and storage space, but still offer excellent experiences,” Lockheimer said. “For example, Google Go is built specifically to help new smartphone users find the information they want, YouTube Go is optimized for limited connectivity, and the Google Assistant for Android (Go edition) lets people quickly send messages, make calls, set alarms, and more with their voice and a single touch of the screen.”
This description sounds very similar to Google’s original vision for Android Go. We look forward to testing out the handsets.
Tell me a little about these Go apps
Google has released a spate of Go apps in the last two months. Maps Go launched in late December and is a lightweight version of the popular mapping tool but doesn’t offer an offline mode.
Gmail Go launched in February 2018. How different is it? While the app looks remarkably similar to its full-fledged sibling, Google has optimized the app code to make its footprint much smaller.
Gboard Go, on the other hand, is a little more lightweight. Instead of offering all of the features found on Gboard, it ships without GIF search, stickers, and one-hand mode. The result is a beautiful keyboard with all of the main functions of the traditional Gboard app without the bulk. Currently, Gboard Go is only available on certain devices and cannot be downloaded from the Play Store.
YouTube Go was actually one of Google’s first Go-optimized apps. Released in 2016, YouTube Go allows you to download videos for offline viewing, select resolution, and even share videos via Bluetooth connection.
Google Go is the lightweight version of the Google Search app. While it looks almost identical to Google Search, it allows more user control over the interface and is optimized to render and open pages quickly on low-end processors.
Finally, Google Assistant Go is, you guessed it, the lightweight version of Google Assistant. And while Assistant Go can perform the bulk of Google Assistant tasks, it does not support smart home devices nor Google Assistant Actions
Updated on May 9: Added data from Google I/O and updated apps.
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