I’d like to start this article with a disclaimer. I am personally very fond of Android OS in general for many reasons and I used it since day one when it was first released. Nevertheless, this is meant to be an informative article about Android as an option and is not written to compete with other solutions. If you are looking for reasons why Android is superior or inferior to other operating systems, this is not to right article for you. If you don’t know a lot about it and want to understand a little bit more about the background, purpose and history of Android, then you have come to the right place.
The Origin of Android OS
Android Inc. was once an own company, founded 2003 in Palo Alto. Early key individuals to Android Inc. were Andy Rubin (co-founder of Danger), Rich Miner (co-founder of Wildfire Communications, Inc.), Nick Sears (once VP at T-Mobile), and Chris White (Head of Design and UI at WebTV). Initial objectives were to build products that were aware of their owner’s location and preferences as well as a operating system for modern digital cameras.
During a later reassessment of markets and buyer potential, they changed their strategy towards a smartphone operating system (OS) to compete with Symbian and Windows for mobiles, which were the top contenders at that time. They did all that without much marketing or general communication about their work and shortly after they burned up all the capital they had. There were some options to get more funds but in 2005 Google acquired Android Inc. for at least $50m in order to pave their way to the mobile market.
Google, along with several leading manufacturers, chip makers and carriers in the Open Handset Alliance, held a conference in 2007 and decided to make the Android OS a new open standard for smartphones, based on the very same Linux kernel they have been previously working on.
The first device was designed to compete with Blackberry devices and had a physical keyboard. However when the iPhone was released in 2007, they redesigned the product to also make use of a touchscreen in order to compete with the new Apple solution. This first Android smartphone was the HTC Dream (also known as G1) and was released to public in October 2008. I was previously not interested in getting an iPhone, but boy – I really craved to get this first Android device and got it shortly after release.
Devices and Hardware
Android OS is by now used by more than one billion devices and as per IDC in 2012 more than 75% of all shipped smartphones were based on Android OS. Every day more than one million devices are being activated. Such devices can consist of:
- TV / Media Suite Devices
- Car related systems
- Home security systems
- Video Game Consoles
- Mini PCs
Deviations from the Google Android OS
Google is doing a great job developing and improving Android OS but usually manufacturers add slight changes to their product’s OS with more or less useful features. Other than that there are some community-driven versions that are also fantastic. Often these non-commercial projects have a focus on performance and / or information privacy. Those solutions are often referred to in correlation to the AOSP or Android Open Source Project.
Within AOSP the source code is provided and development assistance is granted as well. The results of this independent development projects are commonly referred to as Custom ROM and if you own a rooted device, you are free to choose any Custom ROM you like. Popular Custom ROMs are for instance CyanogenMod, which is even often chosen by alternative smartphone manufacturers, AOKP (Android Open Kang Project) who focus on providing many features, and Paranoid Android who have developed interesting ways of improving the usability of the device.
Since the initial release of Android 1.0 there have been several major updates to the OS. Google usually gives their major versions a codename that resembles of a desert and the starting letter follows alphabetical ordering. The latest version 6 is called Marshmallow and was only released a few days ago. Here is a list of versions that went public:
No code name (1.0)
No code name (1.1)
Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0–4.0.4)
Jelly Bean (4.1–4.3.1)
KitKat (4.4–4.4.4, 4.4W–4.4W.2)
My only critique for Android is that it is very difficult to run major software updates on devices. Usually a device you buy will stay with that version and won’t be able to receive the new major version unless you are technically skilled enough to bypass rollouts and restrictions by manufacturer and / or carriers. This can be due to many reasons and can also introduce severe security vulnerabilities. This is the really strong suite of the centralised Apple software distribution system that enables for a very user-friendly update processing – as long as your device’s hardware is capable of running that particular update.
We can see a trend in Android being utilized in devices other than smartphones and tablets. Since 2014 you can own a wearable smartwatch, which runs Android Wear. This year there was a Kickstarter campaign that had the objective to build a very small PCs, running on an operating system, based on Android. So there is a certain motion to leverage the advantages of Android in order to bring more and more products to market that were originally not in the development focus but were always anticipated and yearned for.
It is likely that there will be more and more focus on Android being implemented in home entertainment like in Android TV and in transportation like in the Android Auto. Maybe Google will even include the Android Auto systems in self-driving cars. Seeing the development of Chrome OS it seems that Google does not pursue Android to be installed on desktop PCs or Laptops.
It’s unclear what the future will bring but due to the open nature of Android it takes only a smart person with a good idea to add some disruption to the industry. Nothing is impossible. We are looking forward to more Android-based and community-driven innovation.