Google continues emerging markets push for first-time smartphone users

Google sees the greatest opportunity in a small number of countries that will collectively account for the next billion smartphones sold in the world.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia will account for the next 1.2 billion smartphone users in the next two years, says Google. CNET/James Martin

Google's biggest opportunity for the future is in just a handful of countries.

The world's largest search company on Thursday reiterated its push for more affordable smartphones to better cater to the emerging markets, which is where the lion's share of the growth will originate. In the next two years, Google expects 1.2 billion smartphones to be sold in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia, and it sees a vast majority of the devices running on its Android software.

"More and more people are getting their first smartphone, and for many of them, that smartphone will be their first computer," Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president of engineering and product management at Google, said at the company's keynote presentation for its I/O conference for software developers.

It's this new crop of mobile consumers that Google is trying to serve through its Android One initiative, a program introduced at last year's Google I/O conference. Android One offers smartphone makers a plan to develop affordable smartphones running the most up-to-date Android software.

Fitzpatrick said Google is working to remove barriers and increase the quality of the devices available in these markets.

Google dominates the search and advertising markets worldwide, and its Android mobile operating system accounts for nearly 80 percent of the mobile device market. But as Internet and mobile penetration matures in markets, such as the US and Europe, Google sees big opportunity in emerging markets. A key barrier to unlocking the potential in these markets is getting high-performing, affordable smartphones in the hands of consumers.

The Android One initiative is designed not only to reduce the price tag of Android smartphones to make them more affordable to people living in these regions of the world, but also to provide a more consistent Android experience to ensure customers in emerging markets can use the latest and greatest Google services. Android One smartphones have a target price of $100 or less.

Low-cost Android devices have existed for a long time, but the devices often run on old Android software, leaving wireless consumers on these low-cost devices missing out on many features that Google offers. The Android One program is supposed to help fix this problem by seeding the market with devices that can access Google's latest services, thus driving more revenue to the company's core search and advertising businesses. In addition, it believes consumers will benefit from the more consistent experience available through Android One.

To make this happen Android One phones run "stock" Android, an unmodified version of the software, that doesn't include technical and user interface flourishes that manufacturers, such as Samsung or HTC, typically add to differentiate their smartphones from competitors' products.

Google announced its first Android One devices in September in New Delhi, India, from three smartphone manufacturers. The company has since expanded the program to seven markets, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey. It is currently working with 10 manufacturing partners.

See all of today's Google I/O news.

CNET's Richard Nieva contributed to this report.