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The next version of Android will be aimed at low-end phones and emerging markets

AP/Jeff Chiu
Sure, 900 million Android phones have been activated as of May 2013, but what about the other 6.1 billion people on earth? Slackers.
By Christopher Mims
billions servedPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Google’s Android mobile operating system, which powers the majority of smartphones on the planet, may be about to go on a crash diet that will shrink it to a size it hasn’t been since 2010. The results could be a leaner, faster mobile operating system that reinvigorates older Android phones and helps Google push even further into emerging markets. How so? By allowing device manufacturers to put the latest version of Android on smartphones that cost $100 or less.

Disclaimer: The slimming of Android 5.0, code-named Key Lime Pie, is still an unconfirmed, if credible, rumor. Makers of operating systems, including Apple and Microsoft, often work on reducing the size and requirements of their software, and Google certainly has the engineering resources to do the same to Android.

The result would be a version of Android that requires just 512 megabytes of memory (RAM). That’s half as much as the current version of Android needs. Since early 2012, many owners of older Android phones have been unable to upgrade to the current version of Android because their devices have too little memory. That’s one reason Android is so infamously “fragmented,” with the majority of Android phones in the world currently running on “Gingerbread,” a version of the operating system that was first released in 2010.

This has implications for emerging markets, which collectively represent billions of potential smartphone adopters. By lowering the requirements of the next version of Android, Google effectively lowers the price of a latest-generation Android phone. Currently, suppliers in Shenzhen, China (where the majority of the world’s inexpensive electronics are manufactured or sourced) are selling Android smartphones on Alibaba for $100 and less.

Phones priced between $50 and $100 are one reason Nokia still has significant market share in India, and the logic applies throughout the developing world: The cheaper smartphones become, the sooner Google’s DNA can take over the world.

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