Google Puts Android on a Diet, Seeks Next Billion Users

When Google unveiled its new flagship Nexus 5 smartphone and the latest version of the Android mobile operating system last Thursday, the phone got the most initial attention from the tech world -- not surprisingly -- but a close look at Android KitKat 4.4 reveals more about the search giant's future strategy in the mobile arena.

Earlier this year, Google announced its 1 billionth Android activation, but is looking forward, not back.

"For 2014, our goal is, how do we reach the next billion people?" Google's Android head Sundar Pichai said at the unveiling in San Francisco.

He then made the answer clear: It's not by doing business in developed countries in North America, Europe and Asia where smartphone penetration is nearing 100 percent. Google's eyes, he said, are elsewhere.

"Smartphone penetration is less than 5 percent in emerging markets," he said.

Those markets are Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and Mexico -- important enough that internally Google has graced them with their own acronym BRIIM -- where Google is doing land-office business and Android use is growing at three times the rate of its adoption in developed countries.

However, users in those countries are likely running earlier versions of Android, like Gingerbread 2.3, because the smartphones they can afford generally don't have enough memory to handle newer operating systems.

Enter KitKat 4.4, written to only require 512 megabytes of memory, well within the hardware specifications of even low-end smartphones, the manufacturers of which keep costs down by not splurging on gigabytes of memory.

Google's Chrome browser built into KitKat will, for example, use 16 percent less memory than it needed in the previous Jelly Bean version of Android, Pindar said.

Lower memory requirements will mean Android smartphone manufacturers can install the latest operating system in units destined for emerging economies, and allow users in those countries to upgrade their...

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