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What is Android Go and why does it matter?

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Google's I/O developer conference kicked off on 17 May with the company announcing several new features and functions across its range of products from Android O to Google Home.

Among the new announcements was Android Go, a new version of Android that has been designed for lower-end smartphones. This feature is all about what Android Go is, what it will offer and why it matters.

Android Go is a lighter version of Android. It is still predominantly Android as you know it but the new software has been optimised for smartphones with lower performing processors, smaller amounts of memory and less available mobile data.

Google wants to bring the power of Android to everyone, which not only means more affordable devices but software that has been tuned to these devices. This new software has therefore been designed for entry-level smartphones with between 512MB and 1GB of RAM, such as the new Moto C.

Android Go focuses on three things. The first is optimising the latest release of Android, which will start with Android O, to run smoothly on budget devices. The second is a rebuilt set of Google apps, such as Google Chrome and Gboard, that will use less memory, storage space and mobile data.

The third is a new version of the Google Play store that will look the same as the Play Store you would find on Android O and feature the entire app catalogue, but it will highlight apps that use less data, storage or memory in a separate section at the top called "Optimised for your device".

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Additionally, Android Go will offer a Data Management and Savings settings feature that will allow users to see exactly how much mobile data they have left based on their plan, as well as top up their data.

The Google apps will also be smarter, with things like the data saver feature within Chrome switched on by default in the devices running Android Go. YouTube has also designed a new app called YouTube Go that will allow users to see a preview of the video they are about to watch or download, as well as select the streaming quality they want to watch and find out exactly how much mobile data it will use.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like Android Go will be all that different to Android O. In fact, you are unlikely to be able to tell the difference unless you look at the focus areas of the new software configuration, such as the Play Store or the data-specific features within Google apps.

In Google's brief demonstration, it looks like third-party apps may be called things like Facebook Lite or Skype Lite within the Google Play Store, but aside from that and the data management feature in settings, your 1GB of RAM (or less) smartphone will run as any other Android device would.

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Based on our understanding, Android Go is Android but with a few tweaks to ensure budget devices offer a smoother and more optimised experience based on their hardware configurations and the data limitations of some users.

As we mentioned above, Google has said it wants to bring the power of Android to everyone. In order to accomplish this and deliver a good experience to all Android devices rather than just those with the flagships, such as the Pixels and Galaxy S8s of this world, the Android software needs to meet the needs of the lower-end devices too.

Some budget handsets are less able to handle heavier duty apps due to their lower memory capacities and less powerful processors. Android Go however, means that those who buy the low-end Android handsets, whether that be in developing countries or those with a lower budget, are offered a better overall experience as the software understands and adapts to the limitations of the hardware.

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Ultimately, the reason Android Go matters is because it should result in a better and great user experience for all Android users at the lower end of the smartphone market, rather than just a great experience for those buying the £700 devices.

Google has said that all devices with 1GB of RAM or less will get the Android Go configuration, starting with Android O. It also said that moving forward, every Android release will have an Android Go configuration.

The software giant announced the first devices with Android Go will ship in 2018

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