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US-Bound Android One Phones Suggest Further Google Encroachment Into Marketplace

Last week we started to hear that Google's Android One initiative, launched as an emerging market platform nearly three years ago, may be about to reach the United States, probably at a higher price point than current Android One phones achieve.

Strange decision? Maybe not. If the rumours are true Google will benefit in two ways: better control of Android upgrades and the exclusion of more OEMs.

The first is a no-brainer. Android Nougat has rolled out to a limited number of devices from a limited number of handsets. Almost exclusively they have been higher end phones from premium OEMs. Phones in the Android One programme get their updates from Google. By creating a new tier of Android phones in the developed world, Google takes back the upgrade high ground from Apple.

The second benefit is more complex. Right now OEMs are pushing phones into the market that are under specified and perform poorly, hurting the Android brand. Those mid-range Android OEMs who currently sell almost exclusively in China are starting to break out of their local markets and sell devices to the West.

As most of these ship without Google Mobile Services in China and many export versions have retained that 'feature', Google effectively gains nothing from its endeavour.

So I'm expecting Google to pull a junior Pixel from its metaphorical pocket at the earliest opportunity. It will be a phone with mid-range specs and Pixel-like features and it will be a Google phone, like the Pixel. The manufacturer may even turn out to be HTC as well.

A Google branded phone at half the price of the Pixel would be a device to put Google back in charge of the market. Given its potential, it would be even more concerning for Android partners than the Pixel was.