19 Feb 2015

Taking Android One to the Midrange

(Disclosure: I work for Google, but not for the Android One or Android teams.)

Android One provides a great user experience for less than ₹5K. It’s surprising how close you can get to a high-end phone experience, like the iPhone 5s or Nexus 5, on a 5000 rupee phone. It probably gives me 80% of what I get from the iPhone for a fraction of its price.

I wish Android One expands to the midrange smartphone market in India, rather than just remaining at the low-end. After all, the market doesn’t exist at a single price point. Put differently, if the first set of Android One phones showed what a wonderful phone you could make for ₹5-6 K, what could you make for 10-20K?

I’d pick two improvements over the existing phones: battery life and screen.

I’d improve the battery life enough to last two full days — under heavy use. Set a higher standard than the top-end in battery life, which is currently held by phones like the Note 4 or the Sony Xperia Z3. Instead of merely lasting into the second day, the higher-end Android One phone I’m talking about should last two whole days. Put more precisely, at least 80% of the users should have to charge their phone every other day.

The second biggest improvement that can be made over the existing Android One phones is the screen, which is both small (4.5 inches) and medium-res (217 pixels per inch). It’s not bad by any means; it’s just that it’s the one thing along with the battery life that would give the most benefit if improved.

So, go for a 5.5-inch 1080p screen. This puts the phone firmly in phablet territory, which is good because buyers of phones in this range may have no other Internet device to use, so having a larger screen is all the more important. This should be a screen that has a great pixel density, 1080p, as I mentioned earlier, rather than merely the medium density (217 PPI) of existing Android One phones. The screen should have a great contrast ratio, which means it should be able to get very bright and very dim as needed. You should be able to use it comfortably in sunlight, without squinting. And you should be able to use it in a dark room without discomfort or eyestrain caused by too bright a screen for the room.

These are the two changes I’d make to the existing Android One phones to make a mid-range device — battery life and screen.

Don’t get into the dumb arms race of specs for the sake of specs, like a 2560 x 1440 screen. Nobody’s going to be able to see the difference from a 1080p screen, except perhaps negatively such as in poorer battery life or lower brightness. A 1080p 5.5 inch screen clocks at 400 pixels per inch, which is very high. Any higher amounts to chasing specs for the sake of specs, rather than investing in things that make a noticeable difference to the day-to-day user experience of using the phone. Don’t reach the point of diminishing returns, where you pay 100% more for a component that’s 10% better in practice (as opposed to on paper).

Don’t go for a high-end Snapdragon processor clocked at 2.7Ghz if a cheap MediaTek quad-core or even dual-core CPU does the job well enough that users won’t be able to notice any difference.

Maybe the 1GB of memory that the existing Android One devices will do just one. If not, go with 2GB of memory, rather than 3 or 4.

Skip things like NFC, dual-band Wifi, and 802.11ac Wifi. Stick with 3G, rather than going with LTE, since it doesn’t make a heaven-and-earth difference in day-to-day usage on a phone (as opposed to on a laptop).

By skipping things that don’t make a big difference in day-to-day usage, and investing in things that do, like a great screen and battery, Google and its partners will be able to make a wonderful phone for between 10 and 20K, easily challenging the best of Apple, Samsung and HTC.

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