Operating Systems

Android OS, a Brief History

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In October 2003, a group of young computing experts came together to establish a software development company that would go on to revolutionize the cellular mobile phone as we knew it. The product they would create would establish incredible dominance in the field of mobile computing. In the third quarter of 2014, global shipments of Android-based mobile devices reached 268 million, greatly outpacing the rate of sales for iPhones, Android’s closest competitor. By the end of 2014, sales of Android devices this year alone could exceed one billion. During the second quarter of 2014, Android controlled an incredible 84.7 percent market share of the global smartphone industry, well ahead of iPhone, Windows Phone and the BlackBerry. Android has even been dominating in the sphere of tablet computers; about 62 percent of the nearly 195 million tablet computers sold during 2013 were Android devices.

In our ongoing coverage of popular consumer electronics leading up to Black Friday, we’re taking some time today to profile a brief history of Google’s Android operating software for mobile devices. Android was not the first entrant into the market and while there are those who might argue that Android hasn’t perfected the mobile platform, especially in the eyes of devout iPhone fans, it is tough to argue its popularity as evidenced by the incredible sales statistics listed above.

Interestingly, the Android operating system was not initially designed to be used on mobile phones. If the original plans of the inventors worked out, we would be talking about smart cameras and not smartphones. Compared to operating systems for other mobile devices, the Android operating system has been updated an incredible number of times, resulting in a web-based service which is remarkably different than the original version of this mobile operating system.

 

The Early Days of Android Technology

In 2003, four technology experts joined forces to establish Android Inc. of Palo Alto, CA: Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears and Chris White. The four worked to create an operating system for mobile devices which could be aware of both a user’s location and their personal preferences. At first, the Android team wanted to implement the system into digital camera devices, creating cameras which could access computer services. However, the company recognized that there would be low demand for such a computer camera, so the development activities switched to a focus on cellular phones.

In August 2005, Android very quietly became the property of Google, which purchased the start-up firm for an undisclosed price which is estimated to be about $50 million. Although few people at the time thought that the move would result in Google’s dominance of the mobile operating system, most understood that Google was trying to make a serious foray into Web-based services on mobile platforms.

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We managed to find some of the early patents that protect some of the foundational aspects of the Android operating system. A technology for reducing the cost of wireless communications was protected for Google by U.S. Patent No. 6982945, which is titledBaseband Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum Transceiver. This is one of Google’s earlier patents in mobile technologies, issued in January 2006, and it protects a method for transmitting a radio frequency signal using the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless standard, a mobile technology utilized by smartphones. Issued in December 2004, U.S. Patent No. 6829289, entitled Application of a Pseudo-Randomly Shuffled Hadamard Function in a Wireless CDMA System. The particular technology protected by this patent improves the data delivery capacity of wireless CDMA transmissions by a factor of four. This patent was originally issued to Gossett and Gunter Inc. of Mountain View, CA, before being reassigned to Google in March 2005. Another mobile technology invented by another company and switching hands to Google can be seen in U.S. Patent No. 6785566, issued under the title Cellular Telephone Case. The patent protects a cellular phone casing that provides better protection against water and bad weather during use; issued to Louis Irizarry of Daly City, CA, this patent became Google’s property in April 2005, although the patent expired in October 2008 because of a failure to pay maintenance fees. This information largely comes from a study on Google’s patents completed in 2007 by the global consulting and research firm Evalueserve, which found that many of these patents were not listed as Google’s property in the databases of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The study found that only about 13 percent of Google’s total filings at that time were at the USPTO, the rest of the patent applications being filed are Patent Cooperation Treaty patents; by contrast, the firm found that Motorola, IBM and others filed more than half of their patents directly with the USPTO.

The major milestone in the development of the Android system occurred on November 5th, 2007. On this day, Google unveiled the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), a consortium of technology manufacturers that would work together to create open mobile device standards. At the outset, 34 companies were involved in the consortium. The companies included in the collection at that point included wireless telecommunications providers (T-Mobil), mobile handset makers (Motorola, HTC) and chipset makers (Texas Instruments, Qualcomm). As this announcement indicated, Android would be much different the iPhone system in that it wouldn’t be limited to simply one device from one manufacturer; this would be very important as the first Android device developed by Google would not be released for a couple of years yet. In October 2008, the HTC Dream, the first Android smartphone, would be made commercially available.

Tasty Updates to the Android System

Operating systems which power computing devices, from large desktop workstations to pocket-sized smartphones, are targeted by updates at regular intervals which are meant to fix technical glitches or improve upon the digital services offered to users. There are few, if any, operating systems which have received more updates than the Android system. Since its first release on the HTC Dream, the Android operating system has received a total of 19 total updates; for a period of time, Google was updating the Android system once every two-and-a-half months, much quicker than the development cycle of the iOS, which saw a major update to that system about once annually.

The first version of the Android system was 1.0 G1. It offered multitasking functions as well as GPS and some Bluetooth services. It’s amazing to consider that the original version of the Android Market only made 35 apps available to users; as of July 2014, some official statistics put the amount of Android apps available at 1.4 million. Some Web-based services like Gmail and YouTube were available to users but this version didn’t have a virtual keyboard. It’s pretty incredible to imagine the limited use of this first Android device when compared to the robust system that exists just a few years later.

The first update to the Android system was rolled out in April 2009. This system upgrade began a tradition of naming Android updates after desserts, a quirky choice that has helped Android system updates grab a little bit of attention in more mainstream media. The Android 1.5 update was titled Cupcake; since then, we’ve also seen Eclair, Froyo, Honeycomb, Kit Kat and more. Major upgrades in the Cupcake update include an improved software development kit, a universal search box and a toggle mode for the Camera app which enabled a user to switch from taking still images to recording video. Cupcake also established support of third-party virtual keyboard applications, enabling the use of the Android systems on devices which only offered touchscreen inputs.

 

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Among all the myriad of upgrades to the Android system over the few years since its first release, there have been a few system updates which introduced some of the more significant aspects of Android. In May 2010, Android released the 2.2 Froyo upgrade. This update not only increased the speed and performance of the entire system but also established support for WiFi hotspot connectivity to other devices. The very next upgrade, 2.3 Gingerbread, brought native support for electronic components like gyroscopes and barometers, giving Android devices the tools to analyze their angle of orientation as well as the relative humidity of the surrounding atmosphere. This ability of Android devices to collect a great deal of useful data through its various electronic components is another hallmark of this operating system.

In October 2011, Android released 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to a good amount of fanfare; a major redesign of some essential style elements of the system’s user interface made the release a commercially successful one. However, a greater upgrade to the system’s functionality would be seen with the next major release, 4.1 Jelly Bean, which was officially released in July 2012. With this update, users could turn off notifications for specific applications, resize widgets or enjoy multichannel audio. Jelly Bean also introduced Google Now, a piece of personal assistant software which is becoming more important with the advent of the Android Wear platform for wearable gadgets.

The most recent upgrade to Android was 5.0 Lollipop, introduced during October of this year. The update enables 64-bit CPU support, longer battery life and guest accounts for a device. It might be interesting for some of our readers to view series of screenshots which provide a visual progression of user interface improvement over time, such as can be viewed in this photo gallery published by Ars Technica. Although some aspects of the interface, such as the home screen, have remained relatively unchanged over the years, the Android Market (now the Play Store) and the notifications panels are just a couple of features which have been greatly altered through various Android updates.

Many Devices on One Android System

Although Android was commercially released for mobile electronic devices in October 2008, the first device manufactured by Google wouldn’t be available on consumer markets until 2010. Until the release of the Google Nexus device, a series of smartphones developed by other manufacturers carried the Android banner successfully and largely continue to do so regardless of Google’s flagship device.

As we noted, the HTC Dream, also known as the T-Mobile G1, was the very first Android smartphone which was commercially available. The slide-out QWERTY keyboard and device chin for supporting hardware buttons are both Android features which are part of the distant past, even if that distant past is less than a decade ago. HTC would go on to develop a number of popular smartphones for the Android operating system, including the HTC One, the HTC One X and the HTC Magic.

Samsung is perhaps the greatest developer of Android smartphones, releasing a greater variety of models than Sony, HTC or LG. The Galaxy line of Samsung smartphones is perhaps the best Android smartphone available on the market currently. It’s certainly the best selling; in the first quarter of 2014 alone, Samsung shipped 85 million smartphone units, a total which exceeded the combined sales of Apple, LG, Huawei and Lenovo smartphones in that same quarter.

Samsung may also be the best example of the dichotomy between the Android and iOS systems and offers some clues on why the Android system has been so wildly successful. Of course, Samsung’s marketing budget and global presence already give it a leg up on a great majority of the world’s corporations. However, it also manufactures a great deal of variant devices which focus more of the camera’s resources on accomplishing specific jobs for certain people. As of the early months of 2014, Samsung was selling its flagship S5 smartphone and the Note tablet under the Galaxy brand, as well as the cost-effective Mega, the K Zoom which offers an optical zoom lens, and much more. By contrast, Apple releases one major version of the iPhone or iPad at a time without any significant variants. Apple enjoys a much greater rate of market capitalization as Samsung in mobile computing fields, up to as much as three times Samsung’s market capitalization. However, at the end of the day, Samsung sells the most smartphones and tablets of any corporation, period.

Motorola also deserves some mention as an important early developer of Android smartphones.The Motorola Devour was released along with the 1.6 Eclair update for Android, although the model still featured a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard. The first significant touchscreen Motorola smartphone was the Motorola Droid, also known as the Motorola Milestone in some markets. First released in October 2009, this device directly challenged the dominance that Apple’s iPhone was gaining in the smartphone market with some special help from Verizon Wireless’s “iDont” marketing campaign.

By January 2010, Google was selling its Nexus line of consumer electronic devices on the Android platform. The most significant development of the Nexus may be that Google now has its own hardware device to profit from and the added ability to ensure that its Android devices offer the most up-to-date version of the operating system. This could help Google increase its market presence in smartphone technologies even further, although some critics have noted issues with naming different generations of Nexus devices which may become confusing to consumers. A little notice should be given to Sony for its popular Xperia smartphone, but earlier generations of this device utilized a mobile operating system developed by Windows before switching to the Android OS.

As we look ahead to 2015, it is not much of a stretch to say that we are in the Android era: mobile computing devices have captured the public’s admiration and have permeated daily lives and work routines, and Android leads the charge in terms of this technology. Although Apple and even the Windows Phone format are likely going nowhere anytime soon, it would take a gargantuan development to shift the tide of the marketplace in favor of these players and away from Google’s Android. True to the original vision of the Android OS developers, Android owners can enjoy the use of their system with a digital camera. The breadth of functionality currently offered by these devices, however, is one of the most astounding technological evolutions in our world over the past decade.

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Courtesy: IpWatchdog