What Is Android Go Exactly And Why You Might Care

Google last week released its first developer preview of Android O, the next-generation mobile operating system that will replace Android 7.0 Nougat as the latest and greatest in the Android camp. There has been plenty of buzz surrounding Android O, but Google also talked a little bit about Android Go at is Google I/O developers conference. There has been some confusion about Android Go, including what exactly it is and why you might care. Let's clear things up, shall we?

First and foremost, Android Go is not a new operating system. Sameer Samat, VP of Product Management for Android and Google Play wanted to make that point crystal clear when fielding questions from Gadgets 360 about Android Go. In no uncertain terms, Samat stated that Android Go is "not a different Android," but a project name from within Google.

Android O

"We call it Android Go. It's an internal name, but the OS that these partners will be shipping will be Android O. There's no separate OS called Android Go," Samat explained.

If that is the case, then what exactly will be different about Android Go devices versus Android O devices? It really boils down to settings. Android Go is essentially a bunch of presets that certain Android O devices will ship with. That means certain OS settings will be turned on or off by default. It also means that some Google apps will be a little different than other Android O devices, with the Google Play Store highlighting some third-party apps that have been optimized for Android Go.

"The way this works is that Android has a configuration when you build a device in factory and we are effectively putting a Go configuration in place, which is very similar to what [we] do with Svelte so if the device is low-RAM, for example, when the device is built in the factory, it's configured, right," Samat said. "It's not something the user decides, it's something that the OEM decides at the factory and what we are saying is if you are gonna build a device that’s 1GB or less [RAM] then you should build it with the Go OS configuration, so you should use Android O, but you should use these configuration settings."

Based on what Samat shared about Android Go, it seems like Google wants to make sure that lower end devices offer the richest experience possible on Android. However, that does not mean that Android Go devices will just have a bunch of features and settings disabled in order to run better.

Elephone P6i

"It's not just about taking away but adding features," Samat added. "We mentioned yesterday in the keynote that data management is very important to users that are coming online today. So data management will go in Quick Settings as another example of the UI change. So there are some things that are added and some things that are modified."

Looking at the picture more broadly, Google wants to ensure three things with Android Go. The first is ensuring that Android runs smoothly in entry-level devices. Secondly, Google apps built for these devices should be highly optimized, which means rebuilding many of the apps currently available. And finally, the Play Store should highlight first- and third-party apps "that are tuned to the needs of users that are coming online for the first time."

Bearing in mind that Android Go is not a separate OS, apps that run on regular Android O devices will also run on Android Go gadgets, assuming hardware and region compatibility. In other words, the Play Store will not be gimped on Android Go devices—it will contain the full app catalog with no restrictions, except for those placed by the developer.

On the flip side, regular Android O devices will also have access to apps that are optimized for Android Go. So if you own a Google Pixel XL or Samsung Galaxy S8, you could still download YouTube Go, which will show up just like any other app. Whether you would want to or not depends on what specific optimizations have been made. However, it's not unusual for power users to seek out lightweight versions of software. Remember when Windows Media Player Classic was all the rage on Windows PCs? That same type of situation could play out on Android.

As to the hardware requirements, Android Go will be limited to devices with 1GB of RAM or less. That restriction leaves out a wealth of entry-level devices with 2GB of RAM, but from Google's standpoint there are enough lower end devices with just 1GB of RAM (or less) that it makes sense to focus there first.

Look for Android Go devices to hit the market sometime next year.