Getting Europe Mobile: How Android Made Smartphones Accessible and Affordable

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Wednesday, 16 November 2016 14:46
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Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information. One way that we work towards achieving that goal is to ask big questions, seek out breakthrough technologies, and build them into products that benefit everyone.

Our internet search engine made it possible for anyone to find information worldwide in an instant, and with Maps we created an accessible system for navigation. When we learned that Europe was facing a shortage of digital skills, we made a commitment to train one million people in them -- and to tailor that training to different countries.

One of the biggest changes in recent times has been how we get online. In the early years of the web, access was via computers and dial-up modems. It took minutes to load one black-and-white picture. Now, the most popular way to access the internet is with a hand-held device, with thousands of times the computing power of a 1990s PC. We live in the era of the smartphone. Young or old, rich or poor, millions of Europeans use their phone to connect with the world -- whether that’s video-calling their grandchildren, or using an app to find a hot new bar for a date.

It wasn't always this way. Sir Tim Berners-Lee famously said of the World Wide Web: ‘This is for everyone,’ but the smartphone market was for an exclusive few. In 2006, only 1% of the world had one. We wanted to transform that, so nearly a decade ago, we launched Android, our mobile operating system. Today, more than 1.4 billion people use it.

They enjoy all the benefits of a free, open source operating system, from customising their homescreen to playing Pokémon Go. This level playing field benefits device makers, developers, mobile operators and ultimately users. There are almost 1,300 different brands selling Android devices -- choice is king. Prices range from as little as EUR 40 for a basic smartphone to EUR 500 for the latest devices. And many of them are made in Europe.

Igny, just outside Paris, is home to Archos. It was the first company to launch a tablet running on Android, seven years ago, and has more than 160 employees. The company is specialized in innovative, affordable devices -- disruption is business as normal, and they’ve revolutionized the tablet market several times. Further South, Wiko is now the second largest Android manufacturer in France and one of the top five EU manufacturers, selling millions of devices.

Android enables smaller equipment manufacturers across Europe to compete with the industry’s giants by lowering the barriers to entry. Sweden's Zound Industries created the Marshall London along with the legendary rock’n’roll amp maker, a smartphone which is optimized for playing your music loud. BQ, based in Madrid, employs over 1,200 people to make a range of devices including the Aquaris A4.5 smartphone. And Düsseldorf's Gigaset is Europe's leading landline phone manufacturer: when they decided to enter the smartphone market, they chose Android -- reducing their development expenditure by 30%.

That's just the devices. Once phones are online, they have access not just to the web, but to apps as well, via the Play Store. European superstars have emerged: France's Gameloft was created in 2,000 and became quickly one of the most successful video game publisher and developers of all time. It now employs more than 6,000 people. Every single day, 2.8 million of its apps are downloaded.

And it's far from the only one. Take Finland's Rovio, which makes Angry Birds, or Sweden's King, which is behind the completely addictive Candy Crush Saga. Companies such as SwiftKey, which makes the virtual keyboard on your phone easier to use, or ride-sharing app BlaBlaCar are leveraging Android to boost their business success. In fact, EU app developers lead the field, with 40 of the top 100 grossing apps in the EU and US being created by EU companies.

All this activity has a real economic impact. Mobile contributes $3.1 trillion to the global economy -- about 4.2% of the world’s overall GDP. To bring it back to the app economy, in France Android generates 172,000 jobs. And this is only the start. As more people get smartphones, start coding -- like those million Europeans we’re training in digital skills -- and get involved, the app sector alone could employ 4.8 million people by 2018.

Android is all about choice. Unlike other operating systems, Android can be used with or without Google's applications. Although we at Google are very proud of Chrome, the web browser we make, people are free to download other ones. Firefox has been downloaded 150 million times and Opera is above the 200 million download mark. The Play Store is an open environment where competition is encouraged.

One of Europe’s many strengths is its diversity. We’ve adapted our program to different countries: for example, in the Netherlands we’ve focused on getting SMEs online, while in Italy we helped those making traditional goods to sell them on the web. And that adaptability is at the heart of Android, too: every European should be able to set up their phone in their own language with their choice of homescreen, apps and security measures. We’re excited to see what innovation comes next.
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