What is Android. By now, most people know there are two prominent mobile operating systems: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. There used to be a lot more, but now pretty much every major mobile device runs one or the other. Being that this is a site with “Android” in its name, we might have visitors who wonder: “What is Android?” That’s actually a huge question, and we aim to answer it as thoroughly as possible here!
Android is a mobile operating system based on a modified version of the Linux kernel and other open source software, designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Android is developed by a consortium of developers known as the Open Handset Alliance and commercially sponsored by Google. It was unveiled in November 2007, with the first commercial Android device, the HTC Dream, being launched in September 2008.
It is free and open-source software; its source code is known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is primarily licensed under the Apache License. However most Android devices ship with additional proprietary software pre-installed, most notably Google Mobile Services (GMS)which includes core apps such as Google Chrome, the digital distribution platform Google Play and associated Google Play Services development platform.
Android is by far the world’s most popular operating system. Estimates suggest it runs on 2.5 billion active devices across the globe, with over three billion users — or roughly 39% of the entire global population. This dwarfs Apple’s iOS by a significant margin and even tops Microsoft’s Windows, which is the second-most-popular operating system globally.
There are over three million applications that work on Android. Most of these apps can be found on the official Google Play Store, but you can also sideload apps from the web. This variety makes Android phones very powerful and customizable — but also susceptible to viruses and other types of malware.
If you don’t know what some of these terms mean, don’t worry: we’re going to explain everything in more detail!
What is an operating system?
f you ask “What is Android?” you’re likely to hear back, “It’s an operating system.” That answer is only useful if you know what an operating system is!Advertisement
In brief, an operating system is computer software that works to integrate hardware and software resources. It allows for different types of hardware to work together while simultaneously providing a platform for various bits of software to work with that hardware and, consequently, other pieces of software.
If that’s still confusing, think of the analogy of a stage play. To put on a play, you’ll need a stage, lights, microphones, and other pieces of hardware. You’ll also need actors, stage crew, ushers, and other workers, which would be analogous to software. In this analogy, the director of the play would be similar to an operating system, as they would act as a conduit that instructs everything on how to work together. Without the director, you’d just have a ton of unused hardware with a bunch of people running around with no idea what to do.
In the case of smartphones, Android acts as the “director” for the unique hardware in your phone and the apps you’ve chosen to install.
Where you’ll find Android — from phones to smart watches
When most people think of Android, they think of phones. While it’s true that most Android devices are smartphones, there are plenty of other devices out there with Android on board.
Tablets are the most obvious secondary Android device. After all, they are just big phones, in many respects.
Android also appears on smartwatches. If you own a watch that runs on Wear OS, that is an Android-based operating system. What is an Android-based operating system? That’s when someone takes Android and tweaks it to make it something different but still based on the same core code.
Android doesn’t just appear on phones. There are a whole lot of systems on which you can find it.
There is also a TV platform, appropriately called Android TV. We also can’t forget about Android Automotive, which is Android-based software that powers vehicles. However, don’t confuse this with Android Auto, which is a way for smartphones to integrate with dash systems in cars.
Finally, there are other operating systems out there that are not based on Android but do support running Android apps. Recent versions of Chrome OS allow for this. That means pretty much all Chromebooks on the market also support Android apps. Starting in late 2021, Windows 11 will also support Android apps
The early beginnings of Android
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 having “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 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 2005, Rubin tried to negotiate deals with Samsung and HTC. Shortly afterwards, Google acquired the company in July of that year for at least $50 million. this was Google’s “best deal ever” according to Google’s then-vice president of corporate development, David Lawee, in 2010. Android’s key employees, including Rubin, Miner, Sears, and White, joined Google as part of the acquisition. Not much was known about the secretive Android Inc. 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”
Android is open source, but what does that mean?
When something is open source it means the copyright owner allows its use for any purpose, without any need for financial remuneration. As mentioned earlier, the core code of Android is based on open-source software called Linux. This means that Android, by definition, must also be open source.
To better understand this, let’s look at the opposite: closed-source software. Apple’s iOS is closed source, which means that no one can use it unless the copyright holder — in this case Apple — gives permission. If you were to obtain the source code of iOS and release it on any device, Apple could sue you for infringement on its ownership.
With open-source software, this limitation is gone. Instead, the person or company using the software simply needs to abide by a set of rules related to the licensing of that software. Our own Gary Sims explains these rules in the video above. In brief, this means that their “new” software must also be open source and they must make the code easily available to anyone who would like to use it.
The open-source nature of Android is one of the main reasons it is the most popular operating system in the world. Since anyone can use it for free, it’s incredibly easy for companies of all sizes to create terrific products without needing to invest in creating their own operating system. This is why you find Android in all manners of electronics from all sorts of different brands.
You might be wondering why Google is OK with giving away this product for free. The explanation is actually pretty simple, some aspects of Android you use on your phone are not open source. As you’d imagine, these are some of the most vital apps and services made for Android.
What is Android’s Google Play Service?
The core of Android is open source, which we call “stock” Android. This software lands as part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This is Android in its purest, most basic form.
However, the Android you get with almost all smartphones has tons of other software incorporated that is not open source. Most of this software falls under a system called Google Play Services. This brings Google-branded products to Android, including the Google Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, etc.
In other words, you can use AOSP software all you like for free, but you can’t use Google all you like. Just like with Apple’s tight control of iOS, Google tightly controls Google Play Services. To use it, you need a license and to agree to let Google earn money from your products.
Even though most of the world closely associates Google and Android, there are plenty of Android-based devices out there without Google Play Services. For example, Google does not allow most of its products in China. If you go there, you can easily find Android phones without Google. There will be app stores, apps, and all sorts of familiar features, but not from Google. A more US-centric example would be Amazon’s Fire tablets, which utilize a custom version of Android called Fire OS that substitutes Google apps for Amazon’s own in-house options.
Throughout most of the world, though, Google is inseparable from Android. This is by design. Android’s dependence on Google earns the company billions.
Who maintains Android?
The answer to this question has a few facets. In brief, Google employees maintain the core Android experience. They are responsible for adding new features, updating old ones, and making sure Android follows open-source principles.
However, there’s more to it than that. Most manufacturers also “skin” Android, which means they create their own software that lives on top of Android. This is why the Android you find on a Samsung phone and the Android you find on a OnePlus phone function similarly but look very different. Each manufacturer maintains its own Android skin.
There’s also the question of distributing Android. Obviously, your phone comes with a version of Android when you first take it out of the box. But how does it get updates? Depending on how you bought the phone, an update could need to pass through multiple rungs. First, it needs to come from Google. Then, it needs to get tweaked by your phone’s manufacturer to make sure the skin still works well. Then, it may need to go through your carrier, because it also usually customizes phones it sells.Advertisement |
This long chain of events is one of the big reasons why Android phones don’t see updates as often or for as long as iOS devices. For iPhones, Apple controls everything. There are no skins and carriers have little ability to interfere with how iOS looks and works. In essence, Apple can push an update to every iPhone around the world quickly and easily with little influence from carriers or other companies. Android phones don’t have this luxury.
Android versions: history
|2009||Cupcake (v. 1.5)|
|2009||Donut (v. 1.6)|
|2009||Eclair (vs. 2.0, 2.0.1, and 2.1)|
|2010||Froyo (vs. 2.2 through 2.2.3)|
|2010||Gingerbread (vs. 2.3 through 2.3.7)|
|2011||Honeycomb (vs. 3.0 through 3.2.6)|
|2011||Ice Cream Sandwich (vs. 4.0 through 4.0.4)|
|2012||Jelly Bean (vs. 4.1 through 4.3.1)|
|2013||KitKat (vs. 4.4 through 4.4W.2)|
|2014||Lollipop (vs. 5.0 through 5.1.1)|
|2015||Marshmallow (vs. 6.0 through 6.0.1)|
|2016||Nougat (vs. 7.0 through 7.1.2)|
|2017||Oreo (vs. 8.0 and 8.1)|
|2018||Pie (v. 9.0)|
Android apps: How you can get them
ssuming you have a device with Google Play Services on board, the easiest and safest way to get Android apps is to use the Google Play Store. This comes pre-installed on all Google-supported phones, tablets, and other devices. Just open the app and search for whatever game, program, media, or other product you’re looking for. Many of them are free, but some will require payment. Advertisement |
If you don’t have a device with Google Play Services, you likely have access to a different app store. The most common example of this is Amazon devices, which come with the Amazon App Store pre-installed. Another example is modern Huawei devices, which will have App Gallery. Consult your device’s manufacturer if you are unsure as to which app store you should be using.
Regardless of your device’s particular app store, you can also manually install Android apps by downloading them from the open web. This is called “sideloading.” Generally, this practice is safe. However, there is an inherent security risk to sideloading apps as they do not need to meet the safety requirements enacted by app stores. As such, you should only sideload apps from trustworthy sources. for more info visit Android.com