It was during the Google I/O 2013 keynote that the first official mention of the Google Play Edition program was heard of and in June the same year, the Samsung Galaxy S4 was launched under this program.
By the time the Google Play Edition of the Samsung Galaxy S4 was coming to life, the South Korean tech giant had already started selling the standard Galaxy S4. The same year, the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z Ultra and the LG G Pad 8.3 were added to the program and the following year, even more devices joined the party, including the Moto G and HTC One M8.
So, what makes these devices different from their counterparts? Well, it’s easy – the software. While everything else remained the same, the Google Play Edition versions of these devices had pure Android OS. The standard Galaxy S4 and HTC One, for instance, had Touch Wiz and Sense skins on top of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean respectively, as for the Play Editions, they had a Nexus-like version of Android.
With this program, Google aimed at attracting a niche market that saw the need to have faster updates on their favorite devices. In order to get swift updates, just like today, one had to opt for a Google-made device. None of the devices in the Google Play Edition program were made by Google or had the Nexus branding, but they were the only other path towards getting timely software updates.
While the idea of timely software updates was a great one, the facts that these special Google Play Edition phones were SIM-free and only sold via the Google Store meant that their success was limited. In fact, Google has been treading the same line until recently when it started partnerships with Verizon to sell carrier-based Pixel and Pixel 2 phones – and the results are obvious as more people are continuously adopting the Pixel phones.
If you want to be a successful smartphone seller in the U.S., you cannot ignore carriers. With these special edition phones, Google was ideally cutting the revenues of participating companies by limiting the sales of the phones via the Store. This was obviously not going to last for long. In fact, once Google started pushing its own smartphone lineup, there was no way the Google Play Edition program was going to live on. In early 2015, the last Google Play Edition handset, the HTC One M8, was discontinued from the Google Store and since then, the program has remained dead.
In the final days of the Google Play Edition program, the search giant launched another nearly similar program dubbed Android One. Like the Play Edition program, Android One phones were not meant to be made by Google, rather, partner OEMs took care of the hardware part and the search giant handled the software side of things. In this way, Google was able to keep the Play Edition program somehow alive, but this time, the target market was totally different.
Android One targeted emerging markets where Google Nexus devices were not sold, something that was contrary to the Google Play Edition. Like the latter, the aim of this program was to help deliver timely software updates to the devices in question – and it still is to date. These devices were specific to emerging markets, which meant that they came with low-end specs and features to match their asking prices. Unlike their Play Edition counterparts, these ones are not sold directly via the Google Store. Furthermore, they are not available in the U.S., of course, apart from the Google Project Fi Moto X4 variant.
Looking at the similarities between the two, it’s easy to argue that Android One took the place of Google Play Edition. However, their differences say otherwise. Due to the huge demand for affordable smartphones in emerging markets, Android One might be having a better chance of living on as opposed to what Google Play would have managed. And then there’s Android Go.
This one was launched recently and unlike the other two, it’s simply a slimmed down version of the standard Android OS. It’s a version that is optimized to work on devices that have weak hardware specs, mostly sold in emerging markets. The only similarity between Android One and Android Go is their target markets, but the two platforms are totally different – and so is the dead and gone Google Play Edition program. To be fair, we can say that Android One partially replaced the Google Play Edition program, but with Android Go, it’s a totally different thing.