Sameer Samat, VP of Android and Google Play sheds light on the latest announcements at Google for India
Google's focus is on reaching the next billion users
The next billion users would need innovation that considers limitations such as limited data speeds and patchy networks
Android is undoubtedly the most popular mobile operating system on the planet. It’s definitely the preferred platform for the emerging world. I had a conversation with Sameer Samat, Vice President of Android and Google Play, on the sidelines of the latest announcements at the Google for India event in New Delhi.
Constraints with entry-level devices
It’s common in India to see users with budget Android devices. And as Google looks at the next billion users for its ecosystem, it relies on feedback. “I spoke with users, and they described how they used apps on their phone. A user said she installed one app, and then used it, then uninstalled it in order to save space. The reason being that when she wanted to use the camera there was no space left,” Samat says.
“At the moment of capturing a scene with her camera, she didn’t want to decide what app to delete so she would do it in real time. So she would always uninstall things in real time so she would always have space. The reason for this is in entry level phones, they only have between 4 to 8 GB of ROM, and often these devices come with very little space remaining. Because when you take the operating system and all the preloaded apps there’s not a lot of space remaining for use. And that’s a big problem,” he adds.
Building for Billions
Through its Building for Billions quality guidelines, Google has documented what it believes are best practices to consider when building apps for the next billion users. Since these users primarily come from emerging markets, gaps in infrastructure, choppy and patchy networks and devices with constraints are factors to consider. The building for billion guidelines have instructions and advice around connectivity, device capability, data cost, battery consumption, user interface, and content as well.
Android Oreo (Go Edition)
Samat adds that with Android Oreo (Go Edition) Google is trying to change the experience that first timers have connectivity on a smartphone. “We’ve optimized the operating system, we’ve optimized the preloaded apps, we’ve reduced the size of Google preloaded apps by optimizing them by 50 percent. And overall, there’s twice as much storage space available on an Oreo Go edition device,” he adds.
Samat says that factoring the experiences of the users they spoke to while putting together Android Oreo Go edition, an average entry-level users would typically be able to store approximately 1,000 additional photos. He believes that “matters a lot with people”, and he is excited about these developments.
Addressing the problem with storage
Storage is a key component in smartphones. It determines, to a great extent, how users will interface with their device, the playlists they would have, or whether they would even step out and explore the world beyond their environment snapping photographs using their smartphone’s camera.
One example of how Google is trying to solve this problem is a brand new app called Files Go. According to Samat, “We’ve built unique features, using the best of Google to improve the experience. You heard that we used Google machine learning technology to scan your ROM and your storage space and find all the Good morning messages you received and we can do that because we’ve trained our machine learning technology to identify what those messages look like. We put them together and easily with one touch you can delete them or archive them, or back them up.”
In addition, Google is also bringing the assistant to entry-level devices with Assistant Go. Samat adds, “Assistant Go is a new application from the search team designed again from the ground up for users who may not have grown up using Google search. It has a different interface, and most relevant features like being able to translate back and forth between different languages. All these things will be launching. Some of the apps are available on the Play Store as of now. All of them will be preloaded on Oreo devices and we’re excited to see them ship with our partners.” In addition, with Assistant Go, you can send messages, place calls, set the alarm on your phone all through the convenience of voice, and tapping your phone screen.
Samat explains that Files Go solves the problem around limited storage in entry-level devices by using machine learning. “It’s looking at imagery, and we’ve trained it with lots and lots of good morning messages and how they look. There’s a certain kind of styling for these messages. So it puts all of these together.” The end result, of course, is the ability to swiftly get all the automatic forwards you receive via WhatsApp, and decide whether you want to delete, archive or back them up.
Entry-level devices don’t necessarily have to be inferior
According to Samat, “Our hope is that for users for who their smartphone is their first and only computing device, we really want that to be affordable. Affordability in different countries means different things. But in each country, we want to work with partners and telecom operators who can help bring that technology to everyone.” He adds, “In the partners that we’re working with, you’ll see a range. There are some folks who focus on entry level devices, but specifically the higher end of it. And then there are some that are really focussed on that first smartphone. And over time, what we’re excited about is that if Android runs well on entry level hardware, it allows the ecosystem to really innovate there and build more and more affordable devices.”
He adds, “We think it’s important for billions more to get access to computing that their entry level device be a fully functioning smartphone capable of browsing the web and using apps. For example, you will be able to access the full Play Store on these devices, and download all of the different apps. Yes in the Play Store, we’re doing a better job of highlighting the developers who have done more to build apps specifically for these devices, but you can download any app.”
Google is able to ensure an effective user experience by making optimizations on the operating system. Samat explains, “What we’ve tried to do is make a configuration of Android that it is aware that it is running on an entry level device with limited resources. A simple example. I have two device, which is an entry level smartphone, and another which is a Pixel, more premium. The recents experience on the entry level device shows the apps recently used. On the Pixel, it shows many levels deep of the apps you’ve been using with a screenshot for each one of those apps. That takes a lot of memory.”
He further explains, “On the entry-level device, the recents button shows me only two at a time. It loads one screenshot and unloads the other. With these kind of performance improvements, you can make an entry level device feel much better. And what we’re trying to do here is focus on that experience. Focus on making it a first class device. The other constraint was not just to optimize, but to build features for these users who are probably coming online for the first time, who may not have much of an experience connecting to the internet or access to these devices and apps.”
It’s evident that developing for the next billion would need adapting to the needs of the next billion users. And an inferior user experience won’t quite help. Samat cites the example of the default YouTube app, and YouTube Go. After the success of YouTube, YouTube Go was created, and endowed with a number of features that’s not present on the main YouTube app. Functions such as peer-to-peer file transfers between users without the need of data connection is one such example. It keeps in mind the fact that users in a market such as India would face patchy networks. The solution, in the form of YouTube Go, coupled with the offline viewing feature enables users to effectively plan the download of songs and videos while a cost effective Wi-Fi network is available. Once the music or video is offline, P2P transfers can happen without the need for connecting online.