With the inclusion of the Android 2.0 operating system on Motorola Inc.’s Droid smart phone, iSuppli Corp. is taking a look back at the 14-month history of the open-source operating system.
The original Android 1.0, as it was launched on the T-Mobile G1—AKA the HTC Dream—in October 2008, was a rather simple operating system for smart phones. In fact, compared to many other alternatives, Android 1.0 initially was a skeletal framework that admittedly was short on features and functionality. This was particularly true when compared to the benchmark at the time for a smooth, user-friendly experience: Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
Android 1.0 included many similar features, at least in concept, to what was available from other smart phones at the time, including a customizable home screen with shortcuts for applications and contacts, an Internet browser, a media player, a calendar, a camera, instant messaging, multiple email protocols and a marketplace for new applications.
While many common features were included in version 1.0, many of them did not offer the same level of functionality or customization as other operating systems. It was clear that Android, in its current form, would have a hard time living up to its billing as an iPhone killer.
Right from the start, however, Android did have one compelling characteristic: integration with many of Google’s popular Web-based services and the far-reaching Google cloud, containing a user’s e-mail, contacts, calendar and other information synchronized directly with the device. Early on, Google labored to provide real-time integration with its cloud and it arguably was Android’s best selling point at launch.
In April 2009, six months after the G1 launch of Android 1.0, the first significant update to the operating system was introduced and gave momentum to Google’s naming scheme for Android updates based on pastries. Android 1.5, also known as Cupcake, would include a number of improvements—but few new additions to the original version.
In fact, many of the improvements on existing features resulted from feedback and criticism from the user community. Users were confused when the G1 display would not automatically change from portrait to landscape like other smart phones, despite having the necessary hardware. Others questioned the lack of an on-screen keyboard and limited Bluetooth functionality.
So the Android development team began to assemble the first update to the Android operating system to address some issues that could well have been added to the original 1.0 build had there been a little more time before the G1 launch. Android 1.5 included automatic portrait and landscape orientation, on-screen keyboard input, copy and paste, video camera recording, direct uploads to YouTube, text input suggestions/completion, Bluetooth A2DP and more efficient pairing via Bluetooth. It also added a number of touch-ups intended to smooth out the rough edges throughout the operating systems, such as animated transitions between windows or applications.
None of these additions were particularly groundbreaking, but they all helped to fill out the features that were introduced in Android 1.0 and to add a bit of functionality that users of more established operating systems take for granted. Most important was the effort by Android developers to steadily reinforce their platform and pay attention to its early-adopter user base, a community that would continue to grow with the arrival of the second Android-based smart phone in the United States, the T-Mobile myTouch 3G, AKA the HTC Magic.
Android continued to evolve between major software updates, in large part thanks to the open-source and online communities. Google would release a Software Development Kit (SDK) for each new update that allowed these communities to customize Android to their collective heart’s content and lay the groundwork for future innovation within Android, including the Android Market. At the same time, rumors of new Android phones began swirling on the Internet, furthering the buzz around the newest operating system on the smart phone block.
And so, in September 2009, the newest version of Android was introduced, under the name Donut. Android
1.6 offered a few new features and helped to reinforce the fact that the community could influence the platform’s direction. For example, users were annoyed at the current incarnation of the Android Market and the relative lack of information available for its applications. Developers wanted more ways to display their applications by including screenshots and links to their homepages.
Android’s development team answered these concerns in the 1.6 update by revamping the Android Market. Besides aesthetic improvements, developers could add images to show off their applications and categories were added to better sort the growing library of applications, which then totaled more than 10,000, according to AndroLib.com.
Android 1.6 also introduced global search, an approach that has become synonymous with the Google name. A new home screen widget allowed quick access to Google’s Internet search engine and also returned results from the user’s contacts, bookmarks and browser history, further strengthening the bond between Android and Google.
Android received text-to-speech capability from SVOX and Google Voice Search in the 1.6 update in addition to continued efforts at smoothing out the user experience. Android 1.6 also included a technology upgrade to support CDMA/EVDO standards, which would enable the October 2009 release of the HTC Hero to operate on Sprint’s networks, despite the Hero’s custom Sense user interface being based on an outdated Android 1.5 build. The Samsung Moment, offered by Sprint; the Behold II, sold through T-Mobile; the Motorola Cliq, also offered via T-Mobile and the HTC Droid Eris, from Verizon, also are now running Android 1.5.
Bringing the timeline to the present is the most recent update to the Android: version 2.0, otherwise known as Eclair. For many months, Google and the Android development team worked closely with Motorola to prepare an optimized Android 2.0 and the first phone on which it would appear: the Motorola Droid, available from Verizon starting in November 2009.
The 2.0 update is the most significant upgrade to the Android operating system since its arrival in October 2008. It also marks the first time since Android’s inception that the operating system is designed for a particular device. The Motorola Droid, still the only handset officially running Android 2.0, features many hardware improvements over previous Android phones, including a 3.7-inch display and a 550MHz microprocessor—compared to a 3.2-inch screen and a 528MHz microprocessor on previous Android handsets. Android 2.0 includes support for multiple email addresses, including Exchange accounts, Bluetooth v2.1 with Object Push Profile (OPP) and Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP) for improved integration with in-vehicle Bluetooth systems, and a dedicated Facebook application. Androlib.com reports that more than 19,000 applications are available on the Android Market today, a sign that the community is becoming more invested in Android as well.
Many aesthetic improvements were also made in the Eclair update, including a contact list integrating all modes of contact, such as telephone, SMS, email and Facebook and a revamped user interface that is smoother than any previous build. Of course, Android 2.0 and the Motorola Droid also introduced Google’s free turn-by-turn navigation.
Android of the Future
Android certainly has come a long way from the original 1.0 launch on the G1. The evolution across devices occurred in many steps during the past 14 months and, despite multiple updates, Android 1.x versions seemed similar enough that the smaller aesthetic changes sometimes could be overlooked.
This is particularly true in today’s market when smart-phone operating systems are advanced as ever and Android 1.x always seemed to be a step behind, despite a concerted effort by the development team and the community to keep Android moving forward.
With the introduction of Android 2.0, however, it became clear that not only is Android moving ahead, it has a fair amount of momentum behind it. Android 2.0 on the Motorola Droid looks crisp, clear and runs more smoothly than any previous version. If Google and the Android community can come this far in 14 months since launch, and with a number of handset manufacturers committing to Android, it seems the near future of the operating system could be very interesting indeed.