Android OS is a type of mobile operating system that is built upon Linux. It’s mainly used in smartphones and tablets.
The Android platform consists of an operating system that uses the Linux core, a graphical user interface (GUI), a web browser, and apps that users can download. While early displays of Android showed a basic QWERTY smartphone with a big VGA screen, the OS was designed to work on affordable phones with regular numeric keypads.
Android was introduced with the Apache v2 open-source license. This lets people create different versions of the operating system for various devices like game consoles and digital cameras.
Android OS: History & Development
In 2003, a startup named Android Inc. was founded in Palo Alto. At first, they aimed to create an operating system for cameras but later shifted focus to target a wider audience, leading to the birth of Android as we know it today.
In 2005, Google purchased Android Inc. and its core team for a minimum of $50 million. Google then promoted this early mobile platform to phone makers and mobile carriers, highlighting its advantages, such as flexibility and the ability to be easily upgraded.
While Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, Google was quietly working on developing the Android OS. Early versions of Android phone prototypes looked similar to BlackBerry devices, featuring physical keyboards and no touchscreens.
The arrival of the iPhone brought about significant changes in the mobile computing market. This pushed the creators of Android to focus more on touchscreen support.
Despite this, the HTC Dream, the first Android OS smartphone available for purchase, came out in 2008 with a physical QWERTY keyboard. However, it received mixed reviews at the time.
Towards the end of 2007, the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) was introduced. This alliance brought together over 30 companies from various fields, such as hardware, software, and telecommunications.
Google, Qualcomm, Broadcom, HTC, Intel, Samsung, Motorola, Sprint, Texas Instruments, KDDI, and NTT DoCoMo from Japan were among its members. Their collective aim was to collaborate on creating the initial open-source platform for mobile devices.
Around the same time as the formation of the Open Handset Alliance in November 2007, Google launched the public beta version of Android 1.0 for developers.
However, it wasn’t until April 2009, with the release of Android 1.5, that Google introduced the now-famous dessert-themed naming pattern for Android versions. The first named version was “Cupcake.”
When Android 4.4 KitKat was released, Google provided an official statement clarifying the naming convention: “Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert.”
Features of Android OS
The standard user interface (UI) of Android is built on interactions like tapping, swiping, and pinching to trigger actions directly. The device uses haptic feedback, like vibrations, to alert users in response to their actions. For instance, when a user presses a navigation button, the device provides a vibration.
When a user starts up a device, the Android OS shows the home screen, which serves as the central hub for navigating Android devices. This screen consists of widgets and icons for apps.
Widgets are informative displays that update content like weather or news automatically. The appearance of the home screen varies depending on the device maker using the OS. Users also have the option to customize the home screen’s look using third-party apps available on Google Play.
At the upper part of the home screen, there’s a status bar that shows details about the device and its connections. This includes information like the Wi-Fi network in use or the signal strength. By swiping down with a finger, users can access a notification screen from the status bar.
Android OS incorporates functionalities to optimize battery usage. It puts inactive apps on hold to save battery and reduce CPU consumption. Moreover, Android includes memory management tools that automatically shut down idle processes stored in its memory.
Android operates on the two major cellular standards: GSM/HSDPA and CDMA/EV-DO. Additionally, Android supports:
- GPS: Location tracking and navigation.
- Wi-Fi: Wireless internet connectivity.
- Bluetooth: Wireless data exchange between devices.
- SMS and MMS Messaging: Text and multimedia messaging.
- Video/Still Digital Cameras: Capture photos and videos.
- 3G Communication (EV-DO and HSDPA): Faster mobile data transfer.
- Autocorrect: Automatic typing error correction.
- Compasses: Orientation detection.
- Accelerated 3D Graphics: High-quality visual rendering.
- Multitasking Applications: Running multiple apps simultaneously.
- Battery Optimization: Efficient power management.
- App Stores: Download and install apps.
- Voice Recognition: Control using voice commands.
- Security Features: Protect data and devices.
- NFC: Contactless data transfer.
- Cloud Integration: Sync and store data online.
- Customizable Home Screen: Personalize the interface.
- Widgets: Display live information.
- Data Usage Tracking: Monitor data consumption.
- Offline Mode: Use certain apps without the internet.
- In-App Purchases: Buy items within apps.
Android OS versions
Google regularly updates its operating system with small improvements. These updates help enhance security and make the system work better.
Android 1.0 was launched on September 23, 2008. It came with a bundle of useful Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, Calendar, and YouTube.
In April 2009, Android 1.5, also known as Cupcake, was released. This update brought a virtual keyboard that appeared on the screen, and it also introduced the foundation for third-party app widgets.
On September 15, 2009, Android 1.6, named Donut, came out. It enabled the OS to function on various screen sizes and resolutions. Additionally, Donut included support for CDMA networks.
October 26, 2009, saw the release of Android 2.0, also known as Eclair. This update included turn-by-turn voice navigation, real-time traffic details, and the ability to zoom in and out using a pinch-to-zoom gesture.
On May 20, 2010, Android 2.2, referred to as Froyo, was released. This update brought a dock at the bottom of the home screen and introduced voice actions, letting users tap an icon and give voice commands. Froyo also introduced support for Flash in the web browser.
On December 6, 2010, Android 2.3, known as Gingerbread, was launched. This update brought a new look to the user interface, combining black and green elements.
Android 3.0 to 3.2
Between February 22, 2011, the Honeycomb series, which included Android 3.0 to 3.2, was introduced. These releases were designed specifically for tablets and featured a unique blue, space-themed holographic design in their user interface.
On October 18, 2011, Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, was launched. This release brought a consistent user interface to tablets and smartphones, making the experience more unified. It also emphasized the use of swiping as a primary method of navigation.
Android 4.1 to 4.3
Between July 2012 and July 2013, Android introduced versions 4.1 to 4.3, known as Jelly Bean. These updates brought cool features like Google Now, which helped plan your day and interactive notifications. The voice search system also got better during this time.
On October 31, 2013, Android 4.4, named KitKat, came out. This update brought lighter colors to the interface, along with a see-through status bar and white icons, making things look fresher and more modern.
On November 12, 2014, Android 5.0, known as Lollipop, was released. This version brought a card-like look to the design, which affected things like notifications and the Recent Apps list. Also, Lollipop introduced a hands-free voice control feature using the spoken command “OK, Google.”
On October 5, 2015, Android 6.0, named Marshmallow, was launched. This version marked the start of Google’s yearly update schedule. It brought changes like giving users more control over app permissions in detail, as well as adding support for USB-C connections and fingerprint readers to enhance security.
Android 7.0 and 7.1
In August 2016 and October 2016, Android launched versions 7.0 and 7.1, named Nougat. These updates introduced a split-screen mode and grouped notifications by app.
Android 8.0 and 8.1
In August 2017 and December 2017, Android brought out versions 8.0 and 8.1, named Oreo. These updates included a built-in picture-in-picture (PIP) mode and the option to snooze notifications. Oreo also marked a significant step with Project Treble, aiming to make software updates more consistent across different devices.
On August 6, 2018, Android 9.0, Pie, was launched. In this release, the traditional Back, Home, and Overview buttons were replaced by a versatile Home button and a smaller Back button. Productivity features, like suggested message replies and improved brightness controls, were also added.
On September 3, 2019, Android 10, also called Android Q, was released. This version moved away from the Back button, opting for a swipe-based navigation method. It also introduced a dark theme and a Focus Mode, allowing users to minimize interruptions from specific apps.
Released on September 8, 2020, Android 11 (Red Velvet Cake) introduced features like built-in screen recording, a unified conversation hub for messaging apps, and improved chat bubbles for pinning important chats.
Android 12 (Snow Cone), launched on October 4, 2021, introduced UI customization, a conversation widget for quick contacts access, and improved privacy controls over app access to camera, photos, and microphone.
Android 12L was released on March 7, 2022. The “L” stands for larger screens. This update was designed to enhance and optimize the user interface for larger devices like tablets, foldables, and Chromebooks. It introduced a dual-panel notification center specifically for tablets and foldable devices.
Android 13, named Tiramisu, was released on August 15, 2022. This version offered increased customization with options for color, theme, language, and music. Security updates included better control over app access to information, mandatory notification permissions for all apps, and the ability to clear personal data from the clipboard.
Additionally, Tiramisu enabled multitasking through message, chat, link, and photo sharing across various Android devices such as phones, tablets, and Chromebooks.
Which Hardware Platform Does Android Operate On?
Android primarily works on the ARM hardware platform, and in later versions, it also supports x86 and x86-64 architectures. Around 2012, some Android devices started using Intel processors in their smartphones and tablets.
Google provides documentation outlining the hardware criteria that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must follow for a device to be “Google Approved.” This approval ensures that the device can come preloaded with official Google apps.
Despite this, Android’s open-source nature allows it to function on lower-end hardware, and conversely, it can also run on more powerful hardware.
Android vs. Other Mobile Oses
Symbian, a closed operating system with a microkernel, had its own user interface for the graphical aspect. Big names like Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola used it for their mobile devices. While Symbian was popular globally, it didn’t catch on as much in North America. Unlike the simplicity of Android and iOS, Symbian was a bit more complex and not so easy to develop for. Unfortunately, Symbian’s development came to an end in 2014.
Windows Mobile came from Windows CE, an embedded operating system, and it initially appeared on a device called Pocket PC 2000. Microsoft targeted this mobile OS mainly at businesses. However, due to competition from Android and iOS, Microsoft had to make changes. In 2010, they replaced Windows Mobile with Windows Phone, which aimed more at regular consumers. Later, they shifted to Windows 10 Mobile, but eventually, this too was discontinued. Microsoft officially stopped supporting it on January 14, 2020.
Android’s main competitor is Apple’s iOS. These two operating systems have similar features. However, iOS is a closed system with a fixed interface, while Android is open source, providing greater flexibility and options for customization.
According to a report from Statcounter in 2023, Android held a global market share of 70.77%, while Apple iOS accounted for 28.52%. Apple took the lead in the United States with a market share of 55.25%, followed by Android at 44.43%. Samsung followed with a share of 0.27%, and Windows had a smaller share at 0.02%.
Challenges Faced by Android
One of the main challenges encountered by Android is its fragmentation issue. The open and flexible nature of Android leads to a wide variety of hardware and software variations. Many devices run older Android versions.
As of July 2022, according to Statcounter, about 29.63% of Android users use version 11, 21.8% use version 10, 20.86% have version 12, and 10.74% are on version 9.
This device diversity poses difficulties for app developers because creating apps that work smoothly on all devices and versions is a complex task. This fragmentation also presents problems for businesses.
Managing and securing devices that run on different hardware and software becomes challenging for IT teams.
In response, Google initiated Project Treble as a potential solution. This initiative separates the core Android OS from manufacturer modifications, enabling quicker deployment of software updates.
Another challenge faced by Android is the vulnerability of its applications to piracy. However, with the introduction of Android Jelly Bean, Google allowed developers to encrypt paid applications, aiming to address this concern.