The Android Operating System (OS) is one of the most prominent IT developments of our time, as it is the OS that supports the most popular platform for mobile devices. Contrary to its main competitor (i.e. Apple’s iOS operating system), Android is open source, which provides opportunities for creating many different customized versions of the operating system and allows companies to modify it as they wish. As a prominent example, device vendors like Samsung, HTC and Huawei are creating their own versions of the Android operating system by adding custom skins and associated user interfaces. In this way, they provide their own “look and feel”, which accompanies their devices and is in-line with their branding strategy. Apart from User Interface changes, Android can be flexibly customized in terms of the features that it offers to its users. This has given rise to different flavors of Android such as Android Stock, Android One and Android Go.
Introducing Stock Android: The Benefits of the Original
Stock Android is the most basic version of the operating system, which corresponds to the flavor originally designed and implemented by Google. In other words, it is an unmodified version of Android, which some device manufacturers opt to install “as-is” on their devices. In mobile platforms jargon, Stock Android is also called “vanilla” or “pure” Android.
While a customization possibility is always appealing, having the original version with just the features developed by Google has several advantages over customized versions, including:
- Fast and Timely Access to Updates: Stock Android keeps up with updates to the OS much faster than any other version. Whenever a new version of Android becomes available, stock Android devices can be instantly updated with it. On the contrary, devices with customized versions of Android will have to be tolerant with the older version for quite some time, before the new version is modified and appropriately customized in-line with the flavor of the device manufacturer.
- Better Control over Installed Apps: Customized versions of Android do not only impose a fancier look and feel rather they also provide a broader set of pre-installed apps, some of which cannot be deleted from the devices. Therefore, users of customized versions are sometimes obliged to live with apps that they use rarely or never. On the other hand, pure Android versions provide end-users with flexibility about which apps they would like to download and use, which is something that several users appreciate.
- Efficient Use of Storage: In most cases, customized versions impose a storage penalty on the device. This is because the added value features of the customized versions (including add-on apps) consume some of the device’s storage. Hence, many users prefer stock Android, as the flavor of the OS that makes the most efficient use of the device’s storage capacity.
Despite these advantages of Stock Android, some people argue that they would go for a customized version, simply for reasons of accessing a friendlier user interface with better aesthetics and ergonomic features. Nevertheless, this is not always the case. There are times where the simple and minimalistic, yet functional design of stock Android is preferred from more complex user interfaces. While this ends up being a matter of personal taste, we can safely assume that novice users will find it much easier to learn and navigate in a stock Android environment, rather than in a more colorful, yet complex customized environment.
The above-listed advantages of stock Android are the reason why it is used by device manufacturers, beyond Google. For example, Nokia, Lenovo, and Essential provide devices that are based on stock Android versions.
Android One: The Interim Flavor
Android One is a Google’s program aimed at providing a stock version for smartphones like HTC U11 Life and Xiaomi Mi A1. It was originally inspired as an Android version that would target emerging markets (e.g., India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Middle East, as well as other countries in Africa and South Asia), based on a basic set of capabilities that would run on simpler phones. Specifically, the motivation behind Android One was to facilitate manufacturers to develop low-cost, yet reliable devices. To this end, Android One emphasizes providing stock Android experience, without add-ons.
Beyond this initial motivation, Android serves some of Google’s current business goals, including:
- Reducing the fragmentation of the Android market: Android One can replace older (e.g., Android 5.x or lower) versions of the OS, as a means of modernizing the market based on something reliable that can still work on low-cost devices. Hence it has helped to consolidate the Android market, as older versions have been upgraded based on a common approach.
- Enabling low-budget users to access latest updates: Low budget users have been for some years isolated from Android developments, as they could not access the latest updates. Android One has helped to change this landscape, by allowing low-budget users with this flavor to benefit from OS updates. This was not only beneficial for end-users. Rather it has also helped Google to improve its brand.
For these reasons, Android One is now available in mature markets including the USA. Moreover, there is a significant number of devices that are enrolled in the Android One programming, including devices such as Xiaomi Mi A1, Moto X4, GM5 and GM5 Plus, HTC U11 and more.
Android Go: Replacing Android One
Android One can be seen as an interim step toward supporting entry-level or low-budget smartphones. It is now replaced by Android Go (or Android Oreo, Go edition), which is a cut down version of the OS that is destined to run on entry-level smartphones. Its main components include the OS, the Google Play Store, and various Google apps, which are provided in a way that ensures a better experience in resource-constrained devices.
Android Go targets smartphones with 512 MB to 1 GB of RAM, while occupying less space than other flavors of the OS. As such it is suitable for devices that have 8 -16 GB storage like most low-budget devices nowadays. Optimizations do not stop in storage and memory: Android Go can run apps faster than other versions of the OS and optimizes data communications in order to allow for lesser consumption of mobile traffic.
In terms of apps, Android Go optimizes the way they use the devices’ resources, notably the available memory. The Go flavor comes with only nine (9) preinstalled apps, which include the “reduced” Go versions of Google’s popular applications like YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Maps, Gmail, Chrome and Google Play. Accessing these apps through their Go versions means that they can run faster, yet they may be lacking some features available in the fully-fledged versions of the apps.
Android Go has created a new market segment of mobile apps developers, notably a segment focusing on optimized apps for resource-constrained devices. The main philosophy behind this market lies in the development of apps that sacrifice some side-functionalities for the sake of resource usage efficiency.
Android’s open source nature creates unprecedented opportunities for innovating at the OS level to the benefit of all stakeholders i.e. end-users, device manufacturers and Google itself. This is evident in our earlier analysis of the various flavors of Android. We really hope that this analysis could help you understand how you could benefit from selecting the most proper version and device for your tasks at hand.