Android is a mobile operating system developed by Google, based on a modified version of the Linux kernel and other open source software and designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. In addition, Google has further developed Android TV for televisions, Android Auto for cars, and Wear OS for wrist watches, each with a specialized user interface. Variants of Android are also used on game consoles, digital cameras, PCs and other electronics.
Initially developed by Android Inc., which Google bought in 2005, Android was unveiled in 2007, with the first commercial Android device launched in September 2008. The operating system has since gone through multiple major releases, with the current version being 9.0 “Pie”, released in August 2018. The core Android source code is known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP), and is primarily licensed under the Apache License.
Android is also associated with a suite of proprietary software developed by Google, including core apps for services such as Gmail and Google Search, as well as the application store and digital distribution platform Google Play, and associated development platform. These apps are licensed by manufacturers of Android devices certified under standards imposed by Google, but AOSP has been used as the basis of competing Android ecosystems, such as Amazon.com‘s Fire OS, which utilize their own equivalents to the Google Mobile Services.
Android has been the best-selling OS worldwide on smartphones since 2011 and on tablets since 2013. As of May 2017, it has over two billion monthly active users, the largest installed base of any operating system, and as of June 2018, the Google Play store features over 3.3 million apps.
Android Inc. was founded in Palo Alto, California, in October 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White. Rubin described the Android project as “tremendous potential in developing smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”.The early intentions of the company were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras, and this was the basis of its pitch to investors in April 2004. The company then decided that the market for cameras was not large enough for its goals, and by five months later it had diverted its efforts and was pitching Android as a handset operating system that would rival Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
Rubin had difficulty attracting investors early on, and Android was facing eviction from its office space. Steve Perlman, a close friend of Rubin, brought him $10,000 in cash in an envelope, and shortly thereafter wired an undisclosed amount as seed funding. Perlman refused a stake in the company, and has stated “I did it because I believed in the thing, and I wanted to help Andy.”
In July 2005, Google acquired Android Inc. for at least $50 million. Its key employees, including Rubin, Miner and White, joined Google as part of the acquisition. Not much was known about the secretive Android at the time, with the company having provided few details other than that it was making software for mobile phones. At Google, the team led by Rubin developed a mobile device platform powered by the Linux kernel. Google marketed the platform to handset makers and carriers on the promise of providing a flexible, upgradeable system. Google had “lined up a series of hardware components and software partners and signaled to carriers that it was open to various degrees of cooperation”.[attribution needed]
Speculation about Google’s intention to enter the mobile communications market continued to build through December 2006. An early prototypehad a close resemblance to a BlackBerry phone, with no touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard, but the arrival of 2007’s Apple iPhone meant that Android “had to go back to the drawing board”. Google later changed its Android specification documents to state that “Touchscreens will be supported”, although “the Product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption, therefore a touchscreen cannot completely replace physical buttons”. By 2008, both Nokia and BlackBerry announced touch-based smartphones to rival the iPhone 3G, and Android’s focus eventually switched to just touchscreens. The first commercially available smartphone running Android was the HTC Dream, also known as T-Mobile G1, announced on September 23, 2008.
On November 5, 2007, the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of technology companies including Google, device manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola and Samsung, wireless carriers such as Sprint and T-Mobile, and chipset makers such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, unveiled itself, with a goal to develop “the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices”. Within a year, the Open Handset Alliance faced two other open source competitors, the Symbian Foundation and the LiMo Foundation, the latter also developing a Linux-based mobile operating system like Google. In September 2007, InformationWeek covered an Evalueserve study reporting that Google had filed several patent applications in the area of mobile telephony.
Since 2008, Android has seen numerous updates which have incrementally improved the operating system, adding new features and fixing bugsin previous releases. Each major release is named in alphabetical order after a dessert or sugary treat, with the first few Android versions being called “Cupcake“, “Donut“, “Eclair“, and “Froyo“, in that order. During its announcement of Android KitKat in 2013, Google explained that “Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert”, although a Google spokesperson told CNN in an interview that “It’s kind of like an internal team thing, and we prefer to be a little bit — how should I say — a bit inscrutable in the matter, I’ll say”.
In 2010, Google launched its Nexus series of devices, a lineup in which Google partnered with different device manufacturers to produce new devices and introduce new Android versions. The series was described as having “played a pivotal role in Android’s history by introducing new software iterations and hardware standards across the board”, and became known for its “bloat-free” software with “timely … updates”. At its developer conference in May 2013, Google announced a special version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, where, instead of using Samsung’s own Android customization, the phone ran “stock Android” and was promised to receive new system updates fast. The device would become the start of the Google Play edition program, and was followed by other devices, including the HTC One Google Play edition, and Moto G Google Play edition. In 2015, Ars Technica wrote that “Earlier this week, the last of the Google Play edition Android phones in Google’s online storefront were listed as “no longer available for sale” and that “Now they’re all gone, and it looks a whole lot like the program has wrapped up”.
From 2008 to 2013, Hugo Barra served as product spokesperson, representing Android at press conferences and Google I/O, Google’s annual developer-focused conference. He left Google in August 2013 to join Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. Less than six months earlier, Google’s then-CEO Larry Page announced in a blog post that Andy Rubin had moved from the Android division to take on new projects at Google, and that Sundar Pichai would become the new Android lead. Pichai himself would eventually switch positions, becoming the new CEO of Google in August 2015 following the company’s restructure into the Alphabet conglomerate, making Hiroshi Lockheimer the new head of Android.
In June 2014, Google announced Android One, a set of “hardware reference models” that would “allow [device makers] to easily create high-quality phones at low costs”, designed for consumers in developing countries. In September, Google announced the first set of Android One phones for release in India. However, Recode reported in June 2015 that the project was “a disappointment”, citing “reluctant consumers and manufacturing partners” and “misfires from the search company that has never quite cracked hardware”. Plans to relaunch Android One surfaced in August 2015, with Africa announced as the next location for the program a week later. A report from The Information in January 2017 stated that Google is expanding its low-cost Android One program into the United States, although The Verge notes that the company will presumably not produce the actual devices itself.
Google introduced the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones in October 2016, marketed as being the first phones made by Google, and exclusively featured certain software features, such as the Google Assistant, before wider rollout. The Pixel phones replaced the Nexus series, with a new generation of Pixel phones launched in October 2017.