Hey Google, Android One Needs a Fresh Start For Secure and Long-Lasting Budget Smartphones

Google’s Android One programme is in dire need of another new start to motivate a new generation of secure and long-lasting affordable smartphones.

Android as a platform has always been lacking the levels of security its rival iOS has offered. Some may say that it is because of Apple’s big walls built around iOS and strict measures for developers to follow. However, Google has tried to go that route with its Pixel smartphones and the latest models are among the safest phones on the planet. Google has also tried to bring that level of security down to affordable phones with its Android One phones but there hasn’t been much success on that front.

Android One: What was the idea

The Android One programme originally started in 2014, with three Indian smartphone makers coming up with cheap yet secure Android phones. At the time, the idea was to offer budget Android phones with timely security updates, a clean Android experience and a decent feature-set. Sadly, it did not work in India as the execution was poorly carried out.

Three years later, Xiaomi joined hands with Google to introduce a second phase of the Android One programme, where the idea was to use Google’s version of Android, complete with timely updates and patches, as well as a clean software experience on midrange phones that ticked all right boxes. The Mi A1, as a result, was a smash hit with consumers and others copied the idea. HMD Global’s Nokia went for an entire Android One lineup of its smartphones, focusing on updates and security. Even Motorola made a comeback with its Motorola One series devices last year.

What’s the current situation on Android One?

Not good, to be honest. Android One is suffering the same fate it did before its revival in 2017. Let me explain.

Most Android One phones in the market barely keep up with the promise of timely updates. Take the Xiaomi Mi A3 as an example. The A3 was supposed to get Android 10 last year but the rollout is happening as we speak, that too with buggy releases. Same stands for other Android One devices from Nokia, Motorola and Infinix, all of them releasing last year’s update in January of 2020. Even monthly security patches are delayed by months.

While the Xiaomi Mi A1 gave us hopes of Android One phones giving powerful internals, the ones that followed from other companies are barely capable of running Android nicely. I had a Nokia 6.1 Plus and despite the clean UI as well as frequent update, the phone was slow even while carrying basic tasks. Motorola’s One Vision had a promising set of features that was only let down by its Exynos chipset.

Lastly, there are barely a few Android One phones in the market. Most phone makers promote their custom-built platforms infested with bloat and ads to make more money, leaving the Android One models unattended. Take this as an instance, is there a good Android One phone under Rs 20,000 that you want to buy today?

It is, by a massive margin. Although the phones aren’t perfect and manufacturers lag behind with updates, Android One phones offer a relatively clean user experience with fewer security troubles than other custom Android system. For example, my mother still uses her 2.5 years old Xiaomi Mi A1 and it doesn’t bother her with pesky system ads or lagging performance. It has gone past its update cycle but the phone keeps working without issues.

We need a better Android One programme

Despite its shortcomings, Android One has shown the potential of secure yet affordable smartphones. I feel that Google needs to revamp it to make the smartphone ecosystem a much better place.

Complete software control by Google

The only entity that can beat Google at delivering timely updates is Google. Hence, Android One needs Google to intervene and prepare software for all Android One devices. Whether its OS updates or security patches, Google should develop a centralised way of delivering them to millions of such Android One phones.

Apart from the updates, Android on these phones should be secured on the same levels as iOS. These phones should restrict third-party app installations. A separate Play Store is also a great way to scan apps thoroughly, looking for security loopholes. Google can make its Google Suite apps compulsory and even let the Assistant do all kinds of fancy stuff. But the focus should stay on a secure smartphone experience.

Hardware regulation

This sounds absurd but nobody knows better than Google what works just fine for Android. The Pixel 3A from 2019 is a classic example, using a Snapdragon 670 chip that many shunned for being less capable. However, for most users, it keeps working just fine, as a phone should. Minimal or no lags and secure user experience with the Titan M chip.