What is Android?
You’ve likely heard the word “Android” tossed around in reference to smartphones. Over the past few years, Android has gained significant traction among smartphones as a simple and versatile operating system that is quickly reaching a strong level of competition against Apple’s iOS. According to StatisticBrain.com, there were 295 million Android phones worldwide as of August 2012, about 36 percent of the smartphone market.
Android is a Linux-based mobile phone operating system developed by Google. They still actively develop the platform, but give it away for free to hardware manufacturers and phone carriers who wish to use the system on their phones.
The history of Android
Android was founded in 2003, though it did not truly begin to gain traction until Google acquired the developer company in 2005. The operating system itself was not commercially unveiled until 2007 shortly after the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) was formed. This group of companies wanted to create an open and free mobile platform for the public at large.
Accomplishing this proved to be quite the task as it took nearly another year before version 1.0 of Android was finally released and featured on the HTC Dream. The earliest iteration of the operating system was quite basic and suffered from numerous usability issues. It wasn’t until 2011 and the release of Android 3.0, codenamed “Honeycomb,” came about that the necessary user interface changes were made to make Android more widely accessible to a modern audience that was still learning to become tech-savvy.
In October 2011, Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, was released, followed shortly by the much-anticipated version 4.1 Jelly Bean in 2012. Each of these iterations to the operating system has gained significant traction among mobile phone providers in recent years due to the added functionalities of recent versions as well as increased numbers of independently-developed apps.
In the earlier years of development, few phones of note carried the Android operating system. As the operating system gained in popularity, manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and Motorola developed phones powerful and comparable to the iPhone to complement the capabilities of Android. With phones like the Motorola Droid RAZR, Samsung Galaxy S III and LG Nexus 4, consumers have been quick to support these powerful devices due to how well the hardware complements the Android system.
Android works as an open platform, meaning any wireless carrier can offer Android-powered phones. Whereas Apple’s iPhone has been restricted to specific carriers like AT&T and Verizon and can’t be used on carriers like T-Mobile without first unlocking the phone. Android, on the other hand, is not locked to any specific carrier, which strategically places it in a position of easily becoming one of the most-used mobile phone platforms in the world.
Android is not exclusive to smartphones alone. It can also be found on other devices like tablets, in addition to Google TV and other devices.
Developers for mobile phone platforms like Apple’s iOS or Microsoft Windows would expect to pay upwards of several hundred dollars for the software development kit (SDK). Android, however, is available to developers free of cost, which means no developer or app screenings.
Most app developers for Android rarely find much financial success among consumers. Many Android apps remain free, while most others keep to $0.99 in price and only sell a few hundred times in a year. The target audience for Android prefers free or low-price apps, thus preventing many developers from making a living off of independent development alone.
Google, while predominantly known for its search engine, also offers a wide range of applications to support the Android operating system. Apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps and Google Web all come pre-installed on Android devices, maintaining Google’s strong cross-platform presence.
Through online stores like Google Play, consumers have access to hundreds of thousands of apps and games that fulfill a wide variety of functions. While this app list is by no means as lengthy as what is available through iTunes for iOS devices, the list of apps is steadily growing due to how easily developers can produce apps. Whether it’s managing music lists, editing photos taken from the built-in camera or managing documents remotely, Android developers have created apps for just about everything.
While Google started the first Android app store, others have been popping up throughout the Internet in an effort to compete with Google’s brand. Stores like Amazon’s Appstore and other sites offer alternative purchase locations with comprehensive app listings.
Android for smartphones
Much like Apple’s iOS operating system, Android is typically only available on mobile phones that offer data plans. Downloading and using apps typically requires an Internet connection outside of a wireless signal, though you can sometimes purchase Android smartphones free of a data plan. Few wireless carriers offer this option, which means purchasing smartphones directly from the manufacturer at full price.