6 min read
Android’s rise from the ashes
The journey to become the most popular mobile OS since its launch in 2008, was not that easy for Android. Back then it competed with iOS and Blackberry, which were considered the go-to smartphones of that time.
Google’s idea was to give users a Blackberry-like experience as the ‘G1’ had a full-sized physical Qwerty keypad just like Blackberry. But G1 had some limitations as it could play videos only on YouTube as it didn’t have any inbuilt video player app and Android Market (now Google Play) and had just a handful of apps.
Though the idea to give users blackberry like the experience was spot on, it was not a hit with the users as by then Apple had made touchscreen all the rage with its iPhone. But one thing Google did right with Android OS, which its competitors didn’t offer, was customizations and that’s where Google scored a home run.
Blackberry and iPhone were great and users loved them. But both the OS tied the users in their ecosystem. Motorola saw the potential for customization and it adopted Android to launch Motorola Droid in 2009. This is when Android OS came of age and started competing with Apple’s iOS.
With Android OS, people could customize their phones and with its open source platform developers could tweak the Base OS and customize it to their liking. This resulted in users having options to choose themes, wallpapers, and launchers. This change pioneered the requirement for customization which was later adopted in iPhone as well.
By virtue of it being an open platform and thanks to regular updates from Google, there was a huge surge in Android adoption and mobile manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung launched their devices powered by Android OS.
Because of this rapid adoption of Android by a large number of manufacturers, Android became the most popular mobile platform, beating Nokia’s Symbian OS by the end of 2010.
This Android phenomenon saved many manufacturers like HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony for losing significant market share to the then mobile handset market leaders, Nokia, Blackberry and Apple. They sensed the change in user preferences and adopted Android OS. Nokia, on the other hand, didn’t adopt Android and stuck to it’s Symbian OS which resulted in customer and market loss.
Android: Sugar, and spice and everything nice
In the subsequent years, Google launched Android versions like Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Ice cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, and Marshmallow. The Android team sure love their sugars evident from all Android operating systems named after desserts.
It’s not new that tech companies get unique names for their software versions. For instance, Apple names its OS after cats like Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard. But Google officially never revealed why their OS is named after desserts. Just in case that wasn’t nerdy enough, Google put these sugary names in alphabetical order.
Each update came with some cool features. Here’s a quick list of some popular features with the respective versions.
Eclair (2009): Phone which came with Eclair onboard had digital zoom and flashlight for photos for the first time ever.
Honeycomb (2011): Honeycomb was compatible with a tablet without any major glitches.
Ice cream Sandwich (2011): Probably not as sophisticated as today but Ice cream sandwich had facial recognition and also a feature to take screenshots.
Lollipop (2014): With Android Lollipop rounded icons were introduced in Android for the first time.
Nougat (2016): With Nougat update Google introduced more natural looking emojis including skin tone modifiers, Unicode 9 emojis, and a removal of previously gender-neutral characters.
Pie (2018): The latest Android update Android Pie also comes with a bunch of cool features. However, the standout feature in this release is the Indoor navigation which enables indoor GPS style tracking by determining your location within a building and facilitating turn-by-turn directions to help you navigate indoors.
Android’s greatest strength probably is its large open platform community which helps developers to develop apps for Android. Though developers can write Android apps in any Java virtual machine (JVM) compatible programming language and can run on JVM, Google’s primary language for writing Android apps was Java (besides C++).
At Google I/O 2018, Google announced that it will officially support Kotlin on Android as a “first-class” language. Kotlin is a super new programming language built by JetBrains, which also coincidentally develops the JetBrains IDE that powers the Android Studio.
Apart from rich features and strong open platform community, Google also enhanced security with the newer Android versions which made it unbeatable. Manufacturers like Samsung leveraged the power of Android with their Galaxy S series making them one of the leading mobile manufacturers.
Today, Google have proven themselves as strong players in the mobile market not only with Android OS but also with their Flagship phones like the Pixel series which receive updates before any other Smartphone with Android OS.
Android today: love it, hate it, but you can’t escape it
Today with a staggering 2 Billion active devices, Android is the market leader in mobile OS platform by far. A decade ago, no one anticipated that one mobile OS could have such dominance. Google has developed the OS for televisions, smartwatches, smart home devices, VR Headsets and has even developed Android Auto for cars.
As Google showcased in Google I/O 2018 the power of machine learning with Smart compose for Gmail and Google Duplex for Google assistant, with Google assistant now being introduced on almost all latest android phones it is making Android more powerful than ever.
However, all is not all sunshine and rainbows in the Android nation. In July this year, EU slapped Google with $5 billion fine as an outcome of its antitrust investigations around Android. Google was found guilty of imposing illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and network operators, since 2011, in an attempt to get all the traffic from these devices to the Google search engine.
It is ironic that the very restrictive locked-in ecosystems that Android rebelled against in its early days are something it is now increasingly endorsing. Furthermore, as interfaces become less text and screen-based and more touch, voice, and gesture-based, Google does seem to realize Android’s limitations to some extent. They have been investing a lot into Project Fuschia lately, which many believe could be Android’s replacement in the future.
With the tech landscape changing more rapidly than ever it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Android but for now, Android is here to stay.