[Where's Google's Android going? Guest blogger Ben Hookway uncovers the race for low cost Android taking place behind the scenes of the mobile industry, and how this may change the face of Android as we know it]
Low cost Android devices have been forming a large part of R&D activity for some time now. Behind the scenes of the mobile industry all major players – including semiconductor vendors, software vendors, software services companies, ODMs, OEMs, and network operators – are putting considerable resources into rolling out low cost Android phones. It’s a silent revolution in the making that, once set in motion, should see Android shipments lift off from the single-digit millions.
So how low is â€˜low cost’? Reports of $75-$110 reference designs are emerging from Asia; these are fully featured touchscreen devices, albeit with an EDGE (2.75G), rather than a 3G baseband chipset.
Why the interest in low cost Android? Low cost means volume which in turn means market share, and a consistent platform for the provision of services. There are multiple parties with a compelling interest in having a low cost Android device.
Semiconductor companies are under pressure to better address the market for Android platforms. Qualcomm is the overwhelming leader in 3G chipsets for Android phones in Western markets. Their competition such as ST Ericsson, Broadcom and Infineon are responding and a low cost Android niche may be a way for them to break into the current Qualcomm dominance.
The majority of handset manufacturers are investing heavily in Android. With so much effort going into a single platform, there is an inevitable pressure to be able to scale that platform on as wide a range of phones as possible. While the lion’s share of press coverage is on â€˜smartphones’, the mass volume still is in lower end devices.
Network operators are already developing and deploying â€˜operator packs’ comprising of specific operator applications and service enablers, designed to run on Android devices. Longer term, Android may end up affording operators the standardised platform for devices they have been craving for years; a standard platform they can consistently deploy their own â€˜pack’ on. That’s assuming operators can gain access to low cost, mid-range Android devices on which they can deploy standard operator packs on and therefore extend the operator experience to the mainstream consumers. Moreover, with subsidies widely practiced in the mobile industry, it is in the best interest of the operators to reduce the cost of Android phones.