It often feels like Androids have been a mainstay in our lives for decades. You might be surprised then to recall that Androids did not prevail in the market until the mid-2000s.
In fact, it has been only about a decade since the first “official” Android phone was available for consumers at stores. Once the Android platform was purchased by Google and the decision was made to allow the OS to be open source, Android’s popularity has exploded among third-party phone developers.
After only a few years of launching Android 1.0, smartphones with the operating system flooded the tech market. It has since overrun nearly all competition (Palm OS, Windows Phone, Symbian, and Blackberry) to become one of the prevailing operating systems, with Apple’s iOS being the sole true competition in the OS realm, a fact that does not look like it will change at any time soon.
Let’s take a look at the complete history of Android, starting from the very beginning, and see how much the most popular mobile OS on the planet has changed.
History of Android
Back in October 2003, years before Apple would unleash its first iOS on the world and long before the term “smartphone” would be a “thing”, a publicly funded startup in Palo Alto, CA called Android, Inc., came to fruition.
It had 4 primary founders: Chris White, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Andy Rubin. The founding members aimed to make “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences.”
In 2013, Andy Rubin gave a speech in Tokyo where he said that even though the founders did aim for “smarter devices”, Android’s intentions were not initially those for phones. In fact, the Android OS was intended to improve the operating systems of digital cameras.
Pitches made in 2004 included showing that the OS could connect cameras wirelessly to PCs, which in turn would connect to an “Android Datacenter” where the camera operators would be able to store their pictures on a cloud server.
However, seeing that the market for standalone digital cameras was not exactly on the rise, a few short months later Android Inc shifted its goals to start work on mobile phone operating systems instead.
In 2005, Google purchased Android, Inc, while all of the founders stayed on to help develop the OS they were well into producing already. They decided to use Linux as the primary basis of the Android OS, which meant that Android could be offered to third-party phone manufacturers free of charge.
The feeling from the team and their owners was that they could make good money by offering the OS to other services that could use it (such as apps).
Rubin remained as the head of Google’s Android team until 2013 when he left the division and left Google altogether the following year to pursue a startup business incubator. Rubin made his return to the industry in 2017 however with the announcement of the “Essential Phone.”
Preparing for Android 1.0
In 2007, Apple introduced the world to the iPhone and revolutionized the industry of mobile computing. Google kept quiet about their Android project at the time, but in November of that year, began to slowly leak plans to create its own version of a mobile platform.
Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt would announce that the company’s vision was to open up an operating system that would enable its operation with thousands of different phone models.
It was reported that before the release to the public, Google had two alpha builds of the Android platform, including a blackberry style “Sooner” model which was never released at all.
It’s important to consider that in the early days of what we now consider mobile phone use, there was a lot of skepticism about touchscreen phones, at least until Apple dared to boldly venture into that market.
The very first Android smartphone was finally announced in 2008. It was known as the T-Mobile G1 in the U.S. (and as HTC Dream in other parts of the world). The phone used a typical QWERTY physical keyboard with a 3.2-inch touchscreen and did not have a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack, a mainstay in any current Android phone. It did not exactly receive great reviews.
What the phone did have was the Android 1.0 system which encompassed multiple products and services (as Google intended) including YouTube, Google Maps, and a browser (not yet Chrome).
It also boasted the first version of the “App Store” which was stated to have dozens of apps unique to the Android platform. While some of these sound archaic these days, they were a big part of helping in Android’s rise in the marketplace at the time.
The “Sweet” Release Names
The first few Android versions did not have names for the OS releases. Internally, version 1.1 was referred to as “Petit four” (a name for a French dessert) while in development. When Android’s 1.5 OS launched in April of 2009, the version got a public label of “Cupcake.”
The credit for the naming conventions goes to project manager Ryan Gibson, though his reasons for this convention are unknown. When Google released version 4.4 (KitKat), an “official” reason for the naming convention was given. “Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert.”
What Is With the Logo?
If you’ve used the Android platform chances are you’ve seen the Android logo of a green bug-looking robot creature.
Irina Blok, the icon’s designer, said that her only direction for the logo was to make something that looked like a robot. She cites the inspiration for the green android creature being a warped combination of the make and female restroom logos.
One interesting decision that Blok and Google made was not to protect the creative image of the Android bot from being redesigned. Since its inception, under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Licence, the Android bot’s image has been modified by many people.
When Google released its first publicly attributed code name to their 1.5 OS release, they also placed a statue of the green Android bot outside the Visitor Center building in Mountain View, California.
The Styrofoam statues of the bot, alongside various sweets representing the current or upcoming OS name, have been a mainstay ever since.
These are coated in hard plastic, painted, and then shipped across the country to CA where an official unveiling is held for each new iteration.
Android 1.5 Cupcake
The first public codename release was “Cupcake”. It was representative of the OS 1.5 release and made its debut in April 2009. It was a significant step up from the first two initial public versions.
These included common features like video uploads to YouTube, support for third-party keyboards, and the ability to automatically rotate the screen based on the way the user holds the phone.
The original Samsung Galaxy and the HTC Hero phones were some of the first ones to include the Cupcake release out of the box.
Android 1.6 Donut
Google did not wait long to unveil the Donut released in September 2009. This included support for carriers that used CDMA-based networks, which meant Android phones can now be sold and used all over the world.
This release also added the “Quick Search box” as well as the ability to quickly switch between the Camera, Camcorder, and gallery to improve and streamline the media-capture ability. The Power Control widget was also introduced in this release to enable quick toggling of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and other standard features.
One of the phones that sold with the Donut platform was the Dell Streak with its huge 5-inch screen, which was more akin to a small tablet. However, these days 5-inch screens are pretty average sizes for smartphones.
Android 2.1 Eclair
Version 2.0 was released in October 2009, about a year after Android 1.0 arrived, and was dubbed “Eclair.” This version introduced multiple account support, Google maps navigation, live wallpapers, and text-to-speech support, along with numerous other improvements and new features.
The first phone to include the Eclair version of the OS was the Motorola Droid. It was also the first Android phone to be sold by Verizon Wireless.
The name Android was safe for Google to use, but “Droid” was copyrighted by Lucasfilm for the Star Wars franchise, so Motorola had to shell out money for permission from them to use the name. It then used Droid as part of the name for their phones until 2016.
Android 2.2 Froyo
Some of the new features offered in the Froyo (frozen yogurt) release included Wi-Fi mobile hotspots, flash support, and C2DM (Cloud to Device Messaging) push notifications.
The Nexus One phone, which came preinstalled with the Android 2.1 system, was upgraded to 2.2 shortly after it was introduced in May 2010.
This approach was unlike any attempt by Google before, as the company began working closer with HTC to promote and showcase pure Android.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread
In September 2010, Google launched Android 2.3 (gingerbread), a release Google still lists as the oldest version on its platform version update page. In 2017 Google stated that only .6% of existing Android devices remained running on the 2.3 OS.
2.2 gave the UI a facelift by adding NFC (near field communication support) functions and laid the groundwork for the rise of the selfie by introducing multiple cameras.
The first phone, co-developed by Samsung and Google, to use 2.2 was the Nexus S. Gingerbread also added video chat support by utilizing the Google Talk software.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb
The Honeycomb release was quite different from the rest. It was released for installation exclusively on tablets and other mobile devices which had displays larger than those of smartphones.
Its first appearance was on the Motorola Xoom tablet where it boasted a redesigned user interface specifically tailored to larger screens. It also features a notification bar that appears on the bottom of the tablet’s display.
Not coincidentally the release came in February 2011, a short while after Apple’s 2010 release of the iPad. While some tablets did have the Honeycomb release, many did not, and just retained whichever 2.x version that was operating on smartphones.
This made Honeycomb a largely unnecessary venture. Google would go on to integrate most of Honeycomb’s features into its next version release.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Besides combining the features of smartphones with those of Honeycomb tablet-specific attributes, the October 2011 OS offering from Google included a “favorites tray” on the home screen for the first time.
This also introduced the original version of the security feature of being able to unlock a phone by taking a picture of the user’s face, a functionality that it had since developed quite extensively.
Some other worthwhile changes included support for all on-screen buttons. Users could also dismiss notifications and browser tabs with swipe gestures, and introduced the ability to keep track of mobile and WiFi data usage statistics.
At this time Google believes that only 0.7% of Android devices are running Ice Cream Sandwich.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
The next three releases were all dubbed under the Jelly Bean moniker. Version 4.1 came out in June 2012, with 4.2 followings in October of that year. 4.3 made its debut in July 2013.
All of these releases brought in several new features. Most noticeably they showed more action curtains and additional content on the screen. 4.2 added support for the new Google browser, Chrome.
High Def Resolution photography was enhanced, external displays and Miracast were improved, the search functionally added the Google Now feature, while “Project Butter” was introduced to improve touch responsiveness and speed up Android’s animations.
Anyone who attended the Google I/O was given a Nexus 7 tablet pre-installed with version 4.1. Many Jelly Bean Android phones and devices are still operational, with about 6.9% of Android products still using that OS version.
Android 4.4 KitKat
Before Android 4.4 took on a trademarked brand name in September 2013, (the first time for such an occurrence), it was widely believed that the release would be called “Key Lime Pie” both internally and externally.
But John Lagerling, Google’s director of Android global partnership thought that “Key Lime Pie” would not be a recognizable enough name, so he contacted Nesle, reaching an agreement that Google can use the name.
Nestle not only agreed with this decision, they even released versions of the KitKat bar in the shape of the Android bot as part of a co-branding agreement with the tech giant.
While the KitKat OS did not bring with it too many game-changing features it did optimize the OS to run on smartphones that had as little as 512MB of RAM. This allowed KitKat to be installed on much less expensive devices.
The first smartphone armed out of the box with 4.4 was the Nexus 5. Currently, as many as 15.1% of devices are still using the 4.4 OS.
Android 5.0 Lollipop
The Nexus 6 smartphone as well as the Nexus 9 tablet were the first to come preinstalled with the Lollipop version of the operating system in the fall of 2014. The 5.0 version brought in a significant shakeup on both the OS and the UI levels.
The OS utilized a new Material Design language developed by Google to create a more paper-like look for the UI by using interesting lighting and shadow effects. Also, the user interface got a revamped navigation bar and more effective notifications on the device’s lock screen.
The 5.1 updates that followed brought in more under the hood changes with a focus on HD voice calls, beering up device security to keep thieves from accessing your phone’s content even after factory resets, and brought in dual-SIM support.
To this day, about 29% of Android devices are still running the Lollipop operating system release.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
In the fall of 2015, the Nexus 6P and 5X smartphones and the new Pixel C tablet came out with the 6.0 operating system, dubbed Marshmallow after being referred to “Macadamia Nut Cookie” internally before making the switch.
New features in the OS release included USB Type-C support, Google Now on Tap, Android Pay, a vertically scrolling app drawer, and the addition of the finger biometric security feature in unlocking a device, along with many other new features.
To date, the Marshmallow release remains the most installed OS version on active Android devices, accounting for about 32.2% of them.
Android 7.0 Nougat
With the fall 2016 release of OS version 7.0, Google took bold steps into the advancement into the premium smartphone market. The first devices to come preinstalled with the Nougat OS were Google-branded Pixel and Pixel LS, alongside the LG V20 devices.
Nougat’s primary improvements were to the area of smoother toggling between applications, a split-screen mode for bigger displays, and new and improved multitasking functions.
Behind the scenes with this release, Google also improved the speed of apps with the JIT compiler, enabled support for the DayDream Virtual Reality platform with newly enabled OEMs, and improved 3D rendering with Vulkan API.
Android 8.0 Oreo
In the fall of 2017, Google ventured into using a brand name for its OS release moniker for the second time since KitKat by agreeing on the use of “Oreo” with Nabisco.
The Android Oreo OS brought in a slew of upgrades including improved notification channels, picture-in-picture mode, better management of passwords, and autofill data with a more sophisticated API scheme, as well as many others.
Google’s Pixel 2 smartphone included this OS, but it was also made available for upgrading many of the older Android devices as an “over-the-air” update, in addition to being available via Google’s Android Open Source Project.
Android 9.0 Pie
2018 summer OS offering from Google (dubbed “Pie”) brought in some major changes to the OS and phones. One of the biggest was the home navigation button which replaced the earlier style of the traditional navigation buttons.
The new method was to be able to swipe up the screen which would return an “overview” screen with the most recently used apps, 5 suggestions of commonly used applications, as well as a search bar. You can either swipe to the right to quickly scroll through all of the apps or to the left to see the recently opened ones.
The device was enhanced to automatically slow the battery drain by predicting which apps will be used now and which ones will be used later. This would keep those apps not currently used shut off and not leeching battery power by starting up in the background.
Another cool function introduced was Slices, which lets you use only the necessary parts of an app rather than launching the whole thing. The Shush function allows the phone to go into a “Do Not Disturb” mode when placed face down on a flat surface.
This was first released on Google Pixel phones and the new Essential Phone. Many other older Android devices had this OS rolled out as an update to them.
Android 10: A New Beginning
In 2019 Google unveiled a major refresh to the Android brand with the September update of Android 10. Aside from adopting a new Android logo, this was the first update to ditch the names of popular desserts.
Many of the new features are geared toward the next generation of devices with foldable screens. But also include many new gesture control functions, an enhanced sharing menu, better control for app-based permissions, smart reply features for any messaging apps, and a system-wide “dark mode.”
In the third quarter of 2020 Google expects to launch the next OS, Android 11. Some of the early features released in the February “preview” version include the ability to inactivate or deactivate “dark mode” depending on the time of day the device is being used.
There are also new security features, some of which include only allowing apps to have access to particular parts of your device’s file system.
There are surely others to come. There will likely be a couple more ‘beta’ rounds off this OS before its eventual release in the fall.
What’s Next for Android?
Some research firms indicate that Android use accounts for about 85% of the world’s mobile devices, with Apple’s iOS as a distant second with 14%, while all other devices outside of those two make up only around 0.1%.
Android has grown from a small start-up into an industry juggernaut in about a decade, evolving its operating systems dramatically over that time.
It shouldn’t be too surprising to find out that Google is still committed to enhancing and improving the Android platform that will not be limited to just mobile devices. These will include wearables, TVs, and auto aspects which are likely to be domineered by the platform.
The one area Androids stand to improve however is their updated dispatching, specifically to third-party devices running their OS.
While Google’s supported Pixel and Nexus phones, other devices are largely hit or miss when it comes to security patches, with many security gaps opened up due to a quick drop-off after OS upgrades.
Many phones, especially those considered to be budget ones that are typically “unlocked” tend to seldom receive any updates.
If Android wants to strengthen its brand, even more, they should make an effort to focus on the upkeep of their operating systems on any devices on which those are used and available. It’s completely reasonable however that this is going to entail a lot of work and resources, but such is the price of being a tech giant.