The rise of mobile devices in the last five years has been meteoric, with numerous significant changes in this market being experienced. When the iPhone launched in 2007, it was the ultimate smartphone, and there was simply no competition, thus iOS, the operating system powering the mobile devices from Apple, became the dominant player in the market.
However, this was not to last very long, thanks to Google’s groundbreaking open source mobile operating system: Android.
The history of Android
In order to fully comprehend the impact that Android has had on the mobile devices industry, it is imperative that you understand its history. Android’s journey to becoming a mobile operating system powerhouse started in 2003, thanks to a mobile device tinkerer known as Andy Rubin. He is an experienced and widely respected Silicon Valley engineer who is renowned for coming up with innovative mobile devices. He was at that time working with Apple Inc, and he was instrumental in developing the flagship iPhone, as well as the iOS operating system that powered it. Thus, he was at the forefront of the mobile device revolution. But his work on Android as a Google product began in 2005 when he met the two Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin at an event. At that time, they were very impressed with a phone he had designed while at a start-up called Danger, called Sidekick, and their subsequent correspondence led to Mr. Rubin moving to Google in 2005 from his start-up called Android Inc, which he had started in order to create a mobile operating system that was heavily focused on the user’s location; this happened to be a perfect interest for Google, who then bought the company and brought on board some of the staff.
The launch of Android
However, the launch of Android did not come until after two years, in 2007. Many analysts had viewed Google’s purchase of Android Inc as a move to enter into the mobile market, and this was not further from the truth. For two years, Mr. Rubin and his team, solely focused on Android, worked hard at their venture, and in 2007, they had a working operating system that they could ship with devices. However, this was not easy, since there were reports that Google had approached numerous wireless carriers in order for them to take up Android, but they were somewhat reluctant. Still, Google worked on the operating system until it was ready to ship; the first smartphone to feature Android OS was HTC Dream.
The early versions of Android OS
From the outset, Google developed Android OS to be open source software, and this was one the strategies laid out with an aim to win a huge share of the mobile market. It is important to note that Android was based on Linux, an open source computer operating system, and this laid the foundation for the Android team to move rapidly towards releasing the first version of the operating system. The first version of Android was shipped in September 2008, and it did not cause a storm in the mobile market. Google had also planned to integrate the operating system with many of its other services such as Google Talk, Google Maps and even Google Calendar. This was a great way of bringing on board numerous people who were using these services.
However, Android did not hit the road running. It was released an incomplete product, and Google acknowledged this from the very start. It had fewer features that the competing iOS, and it was also much slower in performance. This is actually where Android acquired its reputation of having slow performance; this was one of the reasons why the operating system took quite a while before picking up. This was further compounded by the fact that the mobile app store for Android was far from complete, while the competing App Store for iOS was very well developed, with a vibrant ecosystem for app developers to create many apps that made iOS more popular and useful. However, Android was very keen not to lie on its laurels and let iOS run the show.
The second and subsequent releases of Android marked some major improvements that placed the operating system on a firm footing to revolutionize the mobile industry. Android 1.5, also known as Cupcake, had some interesting features, some of which became the hallmark of Android. For example, it introduced self-refreshing widgets, such as weather and stock updates, on the home screen so that you could get the latest information without much intrusion. Android 1.6, also known as Doughnut, introduced the famous speech-text feature that enables users to use voice commands to search the web using Google search engine. This also enabled developers to work on many other useful apps that heavily depended on voice commands. The release of Android 2.0, known as Éclair, marked the start of Android as a legitimate competitor to iOS. It was released on the Motorola Droid device and it was an instant hit. It featured turn-by-turn navigation, support for HTML 5 as well as excellent screen resolution. The tablet market was abuzz with the release of the iPad, and Android 3.0 was developed to power numerous low-cost as well as high-end tablet devices; this marked the maturation of Android as a mobile operating system, and there was no stopping Android from taking over the mobile market. Its app store, named Google Play, was also picking up, with many developers creating many useful apps to run on Android OS. The performance of Android 3.0 was testament that Google had found a way of making Android smoothly on most devices.
There is no doubt that Android 4 is the most efficient and stable Android version released by Google. This is due to the features that were introduced, which marked the maturation of Android as a major player in the mobile phone industry. Because it is such an excellent version, Android 4 was chosen to run on Samsung Galaxy III, the smart phone that outsold iPhone 5 on the global market. Android 4, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, has a very clean interface that makes it very easy to access widgets and apps. The design however did not stop at the there; the notifications were also designed to be slick, making using the operating system a great joy. The faster Internet browser means that you can enjoy using numerous apps that connect to the Internet. Since Samsung Galaxy SIII and Note II are high performance smartphones, the high performance and efficiency offered y Android 4 comes in very handy. Also, some nifty improvements in Android 4 have made it quite a secure phone to use, especially the phone locking and unlocking feature that uses facial recognition. This security feature is much safer than the pattern lock, and is one of the major attractions for Android 4.
Also, Android 4 marked a significant paradigm shift to how Google was developing Android versions for both smartphones and tablets. For the versions prior to Android 4, Google had been releasing different versions for each type of device; however, Android 4 saw Google release the first version of unified Android. This means that Android 4 can be used on smartphones and well as on tablet computers without breaking. This change has been most important to app developers; before Android 4, they have had to develop different versions of their apps to run on smartphones and tablet computers, but Android 4 made it possible for them to develop a single app for both devices. This is a marked improvement, since it means that Android app developers can now be more efficient as they will not be spending extra time to tweak their apps to run on both smartphones and tablet computers. Thus, Android 4 is a major milestone for Google in the mobile sector. More detailed version by version history of Android is covered in our Android history post.
Quite often Google talks about Android numbers in the public. Last time the numbers were released on September 2012, when the numbers were 1.3 million activation per day. This OS has had amazing rate of growth in the last 3 years. Here is the chart showing how Android started as nothing and how they were able to manage the whole Smartphone industry.
The future of Android
The million-dollar question at the moment is whether Android can maintain its spot as the most used mobile operating system, and whether it can make more money for Google, With many smartphone manufacturers, of all price ranges, using Android to run their phones, then indications are that Android is here to stay. Also, it is being used on emerging consumer gadgets such as Google Glass, which brings computing to the eyes, literally. There are endless possibilities of the types of ubiquitous devices that can run on Android.
Update: Few hours back, Google reported that the activation have very well crossed the upper limit of 2 Million per day. More details available here.