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Our look back on the Google smartphone and tablet platform’s progress from experiment to market leader.
The Android era
Although BlackBerry was arguably the first modern smartphone, and the iPhone continues to be the standard by which others are judged, it’s Google’s Android platform that now tops mobile market share around the world. Here’s a quick look at the operating system's history.
Android was originally the brainchild of Andy Rubin, who founded Android, Inc., with several colleagues in late 2003. Google bought the company in 2005 and set to work on developing the Linux-based platform that would eventually become the Android operating system.
Dreaming at launch
The first Android-powered device was the HTC Dream, which was launched in October 2008 in the U.S. The Dream – which many will remember better as the T-Mobile G1 – ran Version 1.0 of Android, codenamed “Astro.” (Google would later switch to a dessert-themed naming scheme in Version 1.5 “Cupcake.”) While it packed slightly better core components than contemporary iPhones, it wasn't a huge seller.
To the mainstream
Android didn’t set the world on fire from the outset, finishing 2009 with about 4% of total sales, according to Gartner. A new generation of devices that began with the Motorola Droid, however, used the slick new 2.0 “Éclair” version of the OS and high-end hardware to push that figure above 22% for 2010 and 46% for 2011.
New versions of the OS followed hard on the heels of the rush triggered by the Moto Droid generation. To combat the already growing problem of version fragmentation – the wide range of devices in the Android ecosystem ran various versions of the software – Google began the Nexus program with the HTC Nexus One, which released in 2010. The idea was to provide a phone that would be kept up-to-date with the latest version of Android.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Version 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, was released in October 2011, and represented one of the biggest overhauls of Android since its inception. It radically re-worked the interface and added new features like native 1080p video recording, Android Beam, and Face Unlock technology.
The very latest version of Android is numbered 4.1 and named Jelly Bean. It was released in June 2012. Where its predecessor focused on changing capabilities and interface tweaks, Jelly Bean’s biggest changes are more internally focused. It boasts major performance improvements as a result of Google’s “Project Butter,” deeper integration with the company’s recently rebranded Play Store, as well as voice search and knowledge engine Google Now.
There’s little public information available about the next version of Android – two months isn’t a lot of time for a new release, even by the ludicrously fast standards of the mobile sector. The hottest topic out there, in fact, is speculation about the name: Key Lime Pie looks to be the front-runner among Internet prognosticators.
For the moment, then…
Android is the hottest smartphone platform in the world at the moment, with nearly two-thirds of all devices sold running some version of the software, according to the latest numbers available from Gartner. While legal setbacks like the ruling in the recent Samsung vs. Apple trial and the pending launch of the iPhone 5 could slow Android’s march, it’s nevertheless set to play a central role in the mobile marketplace for years to come.
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