This article has a bearing on my previous four – series article titled “Recognising the 21st Century Inventors” published from 28th September to 19th October 2018 in this Column. That article focused on the recognition accorded to the inventors of GSM and cellular phones up to the unveiling of series of iPhones from iPhone I to XS Max. The miraculous debut of iPhone series to the global GSM market and their unprecedented successes were all achieved within a span of 11 years (2007 to 2018). The article ended with the introduction of Android operation system, which today is the only steep and serious competitor to iPhone OS.
It was in 2007, when Apple launched the first iPhone and ushered in a new era in mobile computing. At that time, Google was still working on Android Operating System confidentially and secretly, but in November of the same year, the company slowly started to reveal its plans to combat Apple and other mobile platforms. It used the formation of what was called the Open Handset Alliance, a sort of teamwork of experts that included phone makers like HTC and Motorola, chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, and carriers including T-Mobile.
Historically, Android started four years earlier than the time Apple announced its first iPhone and its iOS. This was even before the term “smartphone” was publicly used to refer to a cellular phone with provision of Internet services. Precisely, Android Inc was founded in October 2003 in Palo Alto, California. Its four founders were Rich Miner, Nick Sears, Chris White, and Andy Rubin, respectively.
The original idea of Android as revealed by one of the founders, Rubin in a 2013 speech in Tokyo, was that Android OS was initially meant to improve the operating systems of digital cameras in cellular phones. The company made pitches to investors in 2004 that showed how Android, installed on a camera, would connect wirelessly to a PC. That PC would then connect to an “Android Datacenter,” where camera owners could store their photos online on a cloud server. At that time, the Android team did not obviously think of inventing an OS that would serve as the heart of a complete mobile computing system that can serve like any PC. The team’s effort miraculously coincided with the decline of stand-alone digital cameras in the global market. A few months later, Android Inc decided to shift gears towards using the OS inside mobile phones. As Rubin said in 2013, “The exact same platform, the exact same operating system we built for cameras, that became Android for cellphones.” He was further quoted as saying that Android Inc was going to develop “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. This statement formed the conceptual framework that eventually resulted to the debut of Android Operation System. While the establishment of Android Inc was done in 2003 alongside the initial development of the Android OS, Google purchased the company in 2005. Google, together with Open Handset Alliance, vigorously pursued the development of Android OS.
The public but non-commercial release of the Android beta was done on November 5, 2007 while the first commercial version, Android 1.0, was released on September 23, 2008. During the release, then Google Chairman and CEO, Eric Schmidt, was quoted saying, “Today’s announcement is more ambitious than any single ‘Google Phone’ that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks. Our vision is that the powerful platform we are unveiling will power thousands of different phone models” – made by different manufacturers. This statement clearly indicated the direction of Google and Open Handset Alliance in their effort to give Apple keenest competition in the history of “smartphones”.
Between September 2008 and February 2009, Android versions 1 and 1.1 were released. The versions had only basic functions, which included a suite of early Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, Calendar and YouTube, which were integrated into the operating system. Few months after the release of Android 1.1 in 2009, another release of Android 1.5 code named “Cupcake” was made. Thus, the tradition of Android version names of Android was born. Each time the OHA releases an Android version; it names the release after a “dessert”. Android 1.5 is known as “Cupcake”, 1.6 as “Donut”, 2.0/2.1 as “Éclair”, 2.2 as “Froyo” and 2.3 is dubbed “Gingerbread”.
Cupcake introduced numerous refinements to the Android interface, including the first on-screen keyboard — something that became necessary as phones moved away from the once-ubiquitous physical keyboard model. Cupcake also brought about the framework for third-party app widgets, which turned to be one of Android’s most distinguishing elements because it provided a platform for video recording. It was the first-ever option in smartphone.
In the last quarter of 2009, Android version 1.6, which was codenamed Donut was released into the market. Donut filled in some important holes in Android’s centre, which included the ability of the OS to operate on a variety of different screen sizes and resolutions. This was a critical factor for the function of smartphones in the coming years. It also added support for CDMA networks like Verizon, which played a key role in imminent market explosion of Android in the telephone industry.
Android moved with breakneck speed to make within months or weeks intervals. Android 2.0 and 2.1 were simultaneously released just six weeks after Donut; while 2.1, called Eclair, came out a month later. The most transformative feature of this android version was the addition of voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation and real-time traffic information. This was something previously unheard and unmatched in the smartphone world. Aside this, Eclair brought live wallpapers to Android as well as the platform’s first speech-to-text function. And it made waves for injecting the once-iOS-exclusive pinch-to-zoom capability into Android — “a move that was seen as the spark that ignited Apple’s long-lasting ‘thermonuclear war’ against Google” as reported by https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/android-version-history/ .
Four months after the release of Android 2.1 arrived, Google served the smartphone world another Android version 2.2, named “Froyo”, which revolved largely around under-the-hood performance improvements. In addition to performance improvement, Froyo brought Voice Actions feature, which allowed user to perform basic functions like getting directions and making notes by tapping an icon and then speaking a command. It also brought support for use of “Flash drive”. This was a significant option because of the widespread use of Flash at the time and Apple’s adamant stance against supporting it on its own mobile devices.
Android’s first most significant conquest of the market was in 2010 with the release Android 2.3 version, called Gingerbread. Gingerbread came with an improved keyboard, which offered new coloration for the keys, as well as improved multi-touch support, which allowed users to press multiple keys to access a secondary keyboard. The most important feature of Gingerbread is the support for the front-facing camera, which made it possible for user to snap self, a so-called “selfie”. This feature endeared Android OS to several millions of users across the globe.
In 2011, Android versions 3 and 4, the so-called “Honeycomb” and “Ice cream sandwich” were released. Performance improvement was added to the two versions over the previous ones. Conceivably, the most outstanding feature of the Honeycomb was absence of the physical button. Instead, the home, back, and menu buttons were all included in the software as virtual buttons that means, the buttons could be hidden or shown based on the application and the desire of the user. The operating system brought over the aforementioned virtual buttons, as well as the tweaked and refined interface that made use of the blue highlights. Other small features, such as face unlock, data usage analysis, and new apps for mail and calendar, were also included in the update. Galaxy Nexus was the phone that showcased the Ice Cream Sandwich version, an operating system that brought many of Honeycomb’s features over to the smartphone. How far has Android OS gone in meeting the demands of its millions users?
(To be continued next week)