Today, Android is well-known as a mobile operating system; since the launch of Android 1.0 in 2008, Android has had an astronomical rise in market share. In just three years, Android has gone from a new mobile operating system to a mobile OS that controls a plurality of the market share in smartphones, in no small part due to its open source nature and no licensing fees.
In 2003, however, no one would have believed you if you said Google would be at the forefront of smartphone mobile OS development. “Android” was still just a sci-fi word, and the Apple iPhone was not even a speck on the horizon; RIM dominated the smartphone world with their Blackberries and Blackberry OS, and no one then foresaw the coming changes in the smartphone world.
That same year, however, a group of well-known players in the technology field had come together. Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White created a company called Android, Inc. The purpose for the company was vague, and the founders of the company would reveal no specifics; it was common knowledge only that the company was working on some sort of technology related to cell phones.
They continued for about two years, and in 2005 were acquired by Google. Their acquisition by Google was met with a great deal of speculation from investors, commentators, and technology enthusiasts; Android was already a shadowy company that generated interest, and Google’s purchase of it seemed to indicate that Google wanted to move into the mobile phone market; it was already common knowledge that Google was looking to get its search into more mobile devices, and many assumed that this was Google’s entrance into the mobile phone search market.
The general consensus was that Google was going to come out with their own branded handset to enter into the mobile phone market, and the Internet was abuzz with rumors of Google’s technical specifications and possible prototypes that were being shopped around to interested parties; this buzz was only fed by the revelation that Google had filed some mobile phone patents that year. The truth, however, proved to be much more interesting.
In 2007, the Open Handset Alliance was formed, a group of many large electronics companies that included Google in its membership. The announcement of the formation of the Open Handset Alliance was accompanied also by another unveiling; that of the Open Handset Alliance’s flagship product, Android, a mobile phone operating system based on Linux and available for use to anyone because of its free, open-source license.
Android’s initial release was quite impressive, even though it was originally only launched on the HTC Dream / G1, the first Android phone. Released in September of 2008, it lacked many of the features of the later operating systems, of course; the on-screen keyboard, CDMA support, direct video upload to YouTube and Picasa. It was, however, recognizably a smartphone OS that could compete with the other smartphone OSes in the playing field: it was smart, slick, and open, making it a very attractive OS for other phone makers to retrieve, modify, and implement on their own phones.
And the phone makers did in fact appreciate Android’s open nature and ability to perform admirably compared to its competitors. New Android versions kept getting released, and more and more phones started to adopt the Android OS. A little over a year from the release of Android 1.0, Android gained 4% of the market share from its competitors. By this point, Android had become more mainstream in the user sphere, and major carriers like Verizon had launched Android-powered smartphones with aggressive marketing, like the Motorola Droid. A number of Android training programs have opened up to begin spreading Android App Development skills throughout the marketplace. The 2.0 update also helped to contribute to Android’s market share increase, as 2.0 saw the OS gain abilities to interface directly with Exchange servers, improved and advanced calendar functions, and the ability to be able to connect to more than one email account.
It was in 2010 that Android really took off in both the public consciousness and phone manufacturers; in January of that year, Google launched its flagship Android smartphone, the Nexus One, and major phone makers such as Samsung, HTC, and Motorola had all come out with a line of Android smartphones as well. By the end of 2010, Android had seen two major updates: Froyo and Gingerbread. They added improved Exchange support, Internet calling, and much needed copy and paste functionality, all of which appealed to users and broadened Android’s appeal in the corporate market as well. By the end of the year, Android’s market share had rocketed up to almost 18% of the smartphones; no short order, considering it had only existed for two years prior.
Today, Android-powered devices are ubiquitous; there are now tablets, e-book readers, and phones that run some flavor or other of the Android operating system. Android, as of this writing, currently holds 25% plurality in smartphone market share, just three years after the first device that ran the Android operating system launched. A new version 4.0, codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich”, promises to revolutionize the Android ecosystem as well: it is included on Google’s flagship phone, the Galaxy Nexus, and already has garnered extremely strong reviews from across the board. ICS includes a whole host of new features, such as NFC support, infrared support, and facial recognition unlocking technology, just to name a few. The general consensus, however, is that where ICS really shines is in its enhanced speed, performance, usability, and look. There have been a great deal of performance tweaks under the hood to speed up ICS’ performance, including hardware acceleration of the UI- as a result, ICS is extremely smooth and slick. Some of the early reviewers have noted that this may also be a result of the Galaxy Nexus’ impressive hardware specs, but it does perform better than other devices with similar specs. Google’s emphasis on usability and speed really shows, and Android as an OS has really come into its own with the advent of ICS.
ICS’ clear maturation, along with its usability, shows us just how important the mobile touchscreen world is becoming: with its lack of capacitive buttons and slick, minimalist layout, ICS is shaping up to be a technology well-designed to enter the home in all sorts of form factors, whether it be mobile smartphone or beefier tablet. Though it has recently run into allegations of patent violation and other legal issues, Android is a strong contender in the mobile operating system world and it’s here to stay: for the foreseeable future, powered by Android is a tag that’s going to be slapped on quite a few devices as they get shipped out of the factory on their way to the stores!
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