This week Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced that its Android One initiative is launching in Africa, with an initial focus on Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, and Nigeria. That brings the tally of countries with Android One to 16, with the African continent now a big a part of Android One's expansion.
The Android One conquest
A year ago Google launched Android One in India, in an effort to both expand Android's reach among developing countries and reign in some of the bloatware and highly modified versions of Android currently on the market. With Android One, smartphones run a pure version of Google's mobile operating system, with regular updates to new versions when they're released.
In the African countries, Android One will be released on the Infinix HOT 2. The phone comes with 16GB of internal memory, a quad-core MediaTek processor, front and rear-facing cameras, 1 GB of RAM, dual SIM slots, and runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop -- all for just $87.
That's quite a nice little smartphone package for such a low price, and it's all part of Google's mobile domination strategy.
Tapping new markets
Africa is the midst of a massive smartphone boom. Recent data from IDC shows that at the beginning of this year 47% of handsets shipped in Africa were smartphones. That's a big change from Africa's former preference for feature phones, and most of the growth comes from smartphones priced under $100 (hence the HOT 2's price tag).
With these new handsets, Google's hoping to be the company to introduce first-time smartphone users to the Internet. On its blog post, Google cited an Internet Society study that says that 23% of mobile phones in Africa will be connected to the Internet by the end of this year. That might not seem like a very high percentage, but keep in mind that there are already more than 900 million mobile connections in Africa right now.
Android already dominates the mobile OS space in Africa with an 89% market share, but that's not good enough for Google -- Apple was still one of the leading smartphone vendors in the continent in Q1 2015, along with Samsung and local vendor Tecno. The combined companies shipped 55% of the smartphones in Africa earlier this year.
Putting down roots
With Google's massive operating system market share, it would seem the company wouldn't be concerned with Apple's moves in the region, but the iPhone maker has a history of slowly entering developing markets (think China and India) and then growing its smartphone position as a country's middle class expands.
But it's not just Apple that Google's fighting against here. Remember that in China (and many other places) Google has started to lose its grip on Android as local hardware makers have adapted it for their own use, essentially shutting Google out of its own OS. Google doesn't benefit from Android unless users are tapping into Google-owned services like search, YouTube, Gmail, etc., so it's bringing Android One to more countries in order to control how the Android platform expands in that region.
I think Google's likely to succeed with that strategy. It's partnering with handset makers to bring low-cost devices to market with the latest version of its operating system, and promising future updates along with it. That will help ensure Android remains the dominant operating system in Africa into the near future -- and ultimately allow Google to make money from its services and advertising in Africa as well.