Android Go: The Details Google Didn’t Reveal During the Keynote

Android Go was announced during the opening keynote of the Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View on Wednesday. Since the announcement, there has been a lot of confusion regarding the project – is it a new version of Android? Can Android Go devices run all Android apps, or only the apps that have been optimised for the Go experience? How will this impact OS updates for consumers, and what will developers need to do differently to optimise their apps for Android Go?

Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the keynote, Google didn’t provide answers to a lot of these questions, and there isn’t a lot of information related to Android Go up on Google’s websites either. Thankfully, to answer all these queries – and a whole lot more – we managed to get some time with Sameer Samat, the man who introduced Android Go on stage on Wednesday, and the VP of Product Management for Android and Google Play. Here’s a FAQ on Android Go based on the answers Gadgets 360 got from Samat and other Google executives here in Mountain View.

Is Android Go a new version of Android?

Samat couldn’t be clearer on this: “Android Go is not a new version of Android, it’s not a different Android, it’s a project name inside Google.”

What will be the Android version that Go devices will ship with?

“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 explains, just to drive home the point.

So what will be different about Android Go devices?

Think of Android Go as a bunch of presets that your Android O device will ship with. Some OS settings will be switched on (or off) by default; some Google apps will be a bit different than other Android O devices; and the Google Play Store will highlight third-party apps optimised for the Go experience – that’s about it.

“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 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 explains. “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.”

When asked to detail some of these changes, Samat says, “[..] when in Svelte, as far back as KitKat, there’s a number of things that the device will do to optimise the UI, so when it detects that it’s low RAM device, there’s a number of animations that are turned off, a number of things that are memory-intensive like that in the UI that are nice, but if they are done wrong – because they are memory-intensive – they can actually compromise the experience, as opposed to enhancing the experience, so those are some examples of optimisations.”

“The other thing though is there are some feature that we are adding, so it’s not just about taking away but about adding features. 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.”

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The three cornerstones of Android Go

Samat touched upon these points in his keynote on Wednesday, and he reiterates that Android Go “stands for three things – first, is continuing to optimise the Android operating system to run smoothly on entry-level devices, starting with Android O.”

“Second, is making sure that Google apps that we load on these devices are also optimised, which means that we are rebuilding many of the Google apps. I showed in the keynote yesterday – YouTube Go, which is a new app entirely, which is much smaller in APK size, it uses less data, and gives users much more control over data and how they use it, which is very important”

“And then finally, it’s not just the Google apps, but also we have many developers that make apps, so we are optimising the Play Store to highlight the apps that are tuned to the needs of users that are coming online for the first time.”

Will Android Go device only be able to run apps optimised for the Go experience? Will the Google Play Store on Android Go devices only feature these apps?

All Android apps that run on any ‘regular’ Android O device will also run on Android Go devices, barring of course any apps that may not be compatible with your hardware or not available in your region, something that’s the case even today with Android N (or earlier).

“The Play Store on Go devices will contain the whole app catalog – no restrictions, unless the developer has a restriction, but the developer can do that today anyway, but no restrictions from Google on the apps,” Samat told Gadgets 360.

In other words, the Google Play Store on Android Go devices will include all Android apps, not just apps optimised for Android Go devices. The latter will, however, be highlighted by Google prominently within the Play Store on Go devices, which might make it worth the developers’ time to optimise their apps if they want to target this audience.