A complete history of Android

23rd Sep 2008 | 15:36

A complete history of Android

Everything you need to know about Google's mobile operating system

Back in July 2005, when Google seemed to have so much money it didn't know what to do with, it quietly went about buying up a load of start-up companies.

Some of these never really saw the light of day: for instance, Dodgeball, a service that allowed you to text a group of friends in a similar way to Twitter, has never really appeared anywhere in Google's stable.

But at the same time, it also bought a little-known company called Android Inc, co-founded by Andy Rubin, now director of mobile platforms at Google.

Little was known about this company even within its own industry: in fact, all that was available in terms of description was it was 'it developed software for mobile phones.'

In 2003, before getting involved with Android, Rubin conducted an interview with Business Week:

"Rubin said there was tremendous potential in developing smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner's location and preferences.

'If people are smart, that information starts getting aggregated into consumer products,' said Rubin"

The gPhone

Hot on the heels of the iPhone launch, rumours began to increase of Google bringing out its own handset, to help leverage its burgeoning mobile search functions.

Widespread reports of Google hawking its wares round to all the major manufacturers and carriers began to circulate; it was believed the new handset would be designed to work around location-based services and implement a whole host of Google Labs' ideas, as well as the old favourites Maps and Mail.

In fact, the fact Google was spotted more times than a Big Brother reject in the media meant it became a matter of when and not if a gPhone would be announced.

Remember, remember the 5 November (2007)

And then the Californians went and sprang a huge surprised on the world: not only had it not been working on a handset, it had been developing the core of a whole new open-source OS to rival the likes of Symbian, Microsoft et al.

And all those clandestine meetings? The beginnings of what we now know as the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), including HTC, LG, Samsung, T-Mobile and a whole host of other names.

And what many people fail to realise, especially those who call it 'Google's Android', is that the new platform was born out of this group, not Google incorporating the help of others.

Well, that's not strictly true - Google is clearly the main driving force behind the new system, but all factions of the OHA stand to do well from the success of the OS.

Many people had trouble understanding the benefits of what Google Android actually was, and what made it special compared to the raft of other rival OS systems out there.

Lego

The best way to describe it was making all sections of the system like Lego bricks. Where before developers might have struggled to break down the bits of a mobile phone OS, and even if successful, would find that getting one part of the system to talk to another was very difficult indeed, as they were packaged up in their own little programmes.

But with Android, the rules were changed. Fancy making a GPS application that used SMS location updates? The two sections would fit together nicely. If you wanted to add in some location data from the net too? Just pop on a web piece, too.

OK, it may not be that simple, but to the developer community, it represented a big step forward. While the above may have been possible through things like Linux for Mobiles (LiMO), Google Android aims to provide the same thing on a larger, more unified scale, thus bringing a wider audience in the future.

The theory behind the system is very similar to that which has made Google such a success so far: mobile advertising and revenue share are likely to become the big buzzwords for such a platform, and will need to be leveraged well to make Android a success for Google and the OHA.

The aftermath

So now the secret was out, the pressure really was on to actually get Android to market in enough time that other companies and organisations wouldn't be able to steal a march.

Here's a quick run down of the highlights of the Android development in the last 10 months:

* The OHA releases the Android developers SDK on the 12 November, just a week after announcement. The development community gets its first glimpse of what is capable, and likely begins working out the most efficient way to get adult content on a mobile handset.

* In February, a number of companies including Qualcomm and Texas Instruments had chipsets working on very basic versions of the Android OS, giving the world its first sneak preview of OS.

"Android cuts that [development time] dramatically. It's a disruptor," said Ramesh Iyer, mobile internet device manager for TI, according to PC World.

"Android is a single stack. You don't have to go looking for third-party solutions. Suddenly, they have defragmented the whole Linux ecosystem into one building block."

LiMO

* LiMO steps up its game as the main contender to Android, with US network operator Verizon signing up to the organisation, as well as Mozilla, of Firefox fame.

The former is one of the biggest networks in the US, with the latter a champion of open-source web browsing, helping to keep the dominance of the memory-hungry internet explorer at bay.

Many companies, such as LG and Samsung, have feet in nearly all the camps, Symbian, LiMO et al, so the winner is far from certain in the minds of many influential players.

* Spy pics of the new handset begin appearing all over the web as Google demonstrates the handset to conferences and exhibitions; the buzz about what could be possible with a mobile phone powered by the simplicity of Google grows.

* Nokia decides that the threat of an OS from Google is just too much to bear: it buys out Sony Ericsson, Samsung et al to take full ownership of the Symbian OS and instantly sets up the Symbian Foundation, designed to leverage the huge numbers of existing consumers that are already using the system on their handsets.

Despite the almost instant release of an SDK to the ball rolling, it's revealed the first handsets running the new and improved Symbian will be many months away - Android is still strongly placed to nab the open-source mobile market.

Negativity

* The first, and unavoidable, points of negativity over the handset arise when it's rumoured that the release date will not be until later in the 2009. This means that many are going to be left waiting to get their hands on the HTC Dream, which promised to revolutionise the way people interact with their phones.

Shares start to wobble with this news, so HTC's CFO, Hui-ming Cheng quickly issues a response stating the public will be able to get their hands on an Android powered phone in Q4 2008.

* The developer community starts to get irate as they feel Google is prioritising its 'favourite developers' and leaving the rest of them out in the cold.

They are forced to live with huge cycles while newer versions of the SDK are released, and Nicolas Gramlich, a developer, published an open letter to the Californian organisation.

Gramlich writes: "In order not to lose many highly encouraged developers, I think its [sic] time to release some news about the development process of the SDK. Maybe let us know why we have to live with these long cycles."

The development community largely agreed, as one poster commented: "I'm afraid (at the same time excited) that by the time the next Android SDK is released (close to EOY 2008 I guess), many developers here have already released software on the iPhone platform, a platform with 20+ million users versus ZERO user install base for Android.

"It's not a hard decision to make after all. Hopefully someone wakes up sooner than later."

Videos and emulation

* In August, LiMO releases seven more phones (in Asia) to get its portfolio full to bursting point before the first Android handset hits.

Each of these handsets jams in GPS, RFID, high end cameras and TV tuners in a parade of mobile phone bravado... but it seems people outside Asia don't really care.

* Later that month, videos of the interface begin to appear, along with emulators to highlight how easy it is to use. The menu tab at the bottom of each screen, as well as the ability to move between desktops, is lauded as a success, though the fairly basic nature of the emulator hardly sets pulses racing.

And now we're in September and the phone itself has finally launched. The T-Mobile G1 with Google is hardly the catchiest moniker we've ever heard, but the 3.2MP camera and GPS functions are ably complemented by the bevy of Google applications... largely as you'd expect.

It seems analysts and industry insiders are predicting an even faster uptake of the Google handsets than the Apple iPhone, which would be something of a coup for an OS. (You can bet a standard T-Mobile / HTC handset wouldn't get this much coverage).

So what's next? Well, that's up to the public. Will it take to the new OS? Will the development community decide to embrace Android over the App Store that's doing so well for Apple?

Or will it be a case of too little, too late for an OS that entered the public consciousness nearly a year ago?

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