More than 85% of the phone is powered by Android making it the most popular mobile OS in the world. Let’s look back at the history of Android to know how the OS was developed and how it became successful.
It all began in 2003, when a young group of computer experts – Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White decided to create “Android Inc”. The early intention was to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras and then pitch in the idea to investors. However, they figured out that the market was not large enough and then they decided to develop a handset operating system. At that time, Symbian was the most popular mobile OS. However, they were running out of cash in 2005, and Google decided to acquire Android Inc.
The introduction of iPhone – the first full touchscreen phone in 2007 certainly influenced the development of Android. All major mobile companies believed that consumers will not accept a phone that doesn’t have an external QWERTY keyword. However, Google had different plans in their minds and decided to develop an OS that supports full touchscreen phone. They had initially developed ‘Sooner,’ an unreleased prototype device (also made by HTC) which looks like a Blackberry device with a full QWERTY keyboard with a 320×240 display. They decided not to launch the phone and went back to the drawing board.
The first android phone was launched by HTC in October 2008. It was called the HTC Dream, also known as T-Mobile G1. The first apps in Android included Gmail, Google Maps, Search, Google Talk, You Tube etc. And of course, it consisted of other regular apps like calendar, contacts, alarm etc. Many other mobile manufactures like Samsung and LG were developing a full touchscreen phone. However, they need an OS to work on.
The reasons for Android’s success are many. The main reason was that it was Open Sourced – it made smart devices cheaper. Manufactures who were part of the Open Handset Alliance put their effort in Android because of the expertise that they possessed. They could customise the OS based on the requirement of the phone manufactures. The OS also offered great interface and lot of features. A larger market share led to more developers developing apps in the Android which bought in more users.
In 2009, CyanogenMod was launched which become the most widely used custom Android ROM. It is basically a tweaked and edited version of Android OS that you can install on a phone or a tablet in place of the official version from Google. However, it has been discontinued in 2016, due in part to internal conflicts within Cyanogen Inc.
In 2010, Google started developing the Nexus line of devices based on the Android platform by partnering with mobile hardware manufactures. These devices became “reference” devices for Google to enhance user experience in the Android OS and venture into hardware. Another reason could be that they don’t want to take down the big players who used Android OS. Google’s own device at that time would upset the manufacturer and they would start developing their own OS. Google also had less visibility in the mobile arena at that time. However, Google launched Pixel and Pixel XL smartphone in 2016 in order to compete in the mobile hardware market.
Since 2008, Android has seen numerous updates that have improved the OS by adding new features and fixing bugs. Each updated of Android versions is named after a dessert or sugary treat in alphabetical order – Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread etc. So, what is going to be the future of Android OS ?
Android OS is not just going to power smartphones. Google has already developed Android Wear for wrist watches, Android TV for televisions, Android Auto for cars and Brillo (later renamed Android Things), for smart devices and Internet of things. Android might also make its way into laptop and even desktop OS.
Google is also developing Fuchsia – a real-time operating system (RTOS). Chrome OS and Android are based on Linux kernels (which are getting outdated) whereas Fuchsia is based on a new microkernel called “Magenta”, derived from “Little Kernel”. It could also be modular in nature allowing for it to be customized for different applications. There is no definite timeline when Fuchsia will enter the market. It may even be an Android update or replacement.
As of now, the Android OS will keep improving via updates that adds new features and fixes bugs. Most Android has some serious shortcomings that Google is well aware of – most devices run outdated OS & they are also involved in numerous patent lawsuits. This will be a big challenge for Google to overcome.