Android’s evolution through the years

Now that we’ve had our first hands-on with Google’s Android P beta let’s take a look back at how Google’s Android has evolved over the years. You may not believe it, looking at the size of your scroll indicator, but we did our best to make this brief!

Introduction to Android

Android is based on a modified Linux kernel which was initially developed by Android Inc., a company co-founded by Andy Rubin in October 2003, and purchased by Google in 2005 for circa $50 million.

Google released its Beta mobile phone operating system, Android, on the 5 November 2007, the same year Apple launched the iPhone, with Google releasing its first SDK one week later, on 12 November 2007.

Did you know? When Google launched Android, Eric Schmidt (Google’s then CEO) was a member of Apple’s Board of Directors, a position he had held since August 2006. At the time of its launch, the iPhone utilized Google’s backend services built into some of Apple’s core iPhone apps, such as Maps and YouTube.

It wasn’t until August 3, 2009, that he resigned from Apple’s Board of Directors due to the obvious potential conflicts of interest. Before his resignation, his effectiveness as an Apple Board member was significantly diminished, often having to recuse himself from Board meetings when the subject matter turned to iPhone or its fledgling operation system – iOS.

During the early stages of its accelerated development, Android had a very aggressive release schedule. We often saw multiple releases per year, and at its peak in 2009 Android received no-less than four significant updates. More recently, Google has settled into yearly major updates.

In 2011, Android became the world’s most popular mobile Operating System – a mantle that it has not relinquished since – and is unlikely to do so as developing a modern OS for any platform is a major undertaking. As of April 2018, Android had a market share of 75.66%, with iOS holding 19.23%. The 5.11% for ‘other’ combines the likes of Windows, Series 40, Samsung, and Blackberry. Taking tablets into account, iOS only closes the divide by 2-3%.

Licensing and Google Mobile Services

Not all devices running Android are equal though. Once Google launches an Android release, it makes the source code available via an open source license allowing for distribution and modification. However, to use the Android trademark, device manufacturers have to license this separately from Google.

Additionally, the Android OS doesn’t include that many core apps. Those apps that we take for granted such as the Play Store, Chrome, Gmail, Maps and the API’s that access Google’s services are part of Google’s Mobile Services, which has to be licensed separately from Google. Google will only grant licenses to manufactures that meet its strict compatibility requirements along with other criteria.

This explains why Amazon’s Fire tablets, which run a ‘forked’ version of Android, don’t make any reference to Android – instead choosing to call its operating System Fire OS. Similarly, Amazon doesn’t license Google Mobile Services and provides its own browser called ‘silk,’ Amazon app store and other supporting apps that access Amazon’s eco-system.

As stated previously, the open source license allows modification, enabling device manufacturers to provide a point of differentiation in the sea of Android devices both through ‘skinning’ the stock Android experience and/or enhancing other Android features. Samsung with its Samsung Experience, Huawei and its EMUI are two examples of manufacturers who take this approach. Others, such as Motorola and Nokia prefer a ‘lighter’ touch providing a near stock Android. This can be a contentious subject which warranted our own Sunday debate earlier in the year which you can read here. Of interest, 65% of voters preferred stock android.

Version history

Jump to
Android 1.0 (no codename)
Android 1.1 (Petit Four)
Android 1.5 (Cupcake)
Android 1.6 (Donut)
Android 2.0 (Eclair)
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Android 5.0 (Lollipop)
Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)
Android 7.0 (Nougat)
Android 8.0 (Oreo)
Android 9.0 (Android P name TBC)

Android 1.0 – no codename

Release date: September 23, 2008

Android 1.0 was the first commercially available release of the OS. It was available on the pioneering device – the T-Mobile G1 (released October 2008 in the US and the UK) along with the Android source code.

Inbuilt apps included:

Android Market Web Browser Pictures Camera
Gmail Google Contacts Google Calendar Over the air syncing via Google Sync
Email app supporting POP3, IMAP & SMTP Calculator YouTube Settings
Alarm clock Dialer Google Maps

During our review of the T-Mobile G1 we did a deep dive into this first iteration of Android which you can read here. We’ve drawn out the salient points for you:

Multiple home screens
Background wallpapers
Task switcher
Home screen folders
Pattern unlock
Access to recent notifications
Home screen short cuts, including contacts
No pre-installed video player
Limited camera settings
Web browser based on WebKit but lacked multi-touch support for zooming
No video recording capabilities
Launched with Android Market

T-Mobile G1
T-Mobile G1
T-Mobile G1
T-Mobile G1
T-Mobile G1

T-Mobile G1 The Android homescreen Search context menu Android Market

In our initial Android review we concluded

It may be a long journey but the first step is daring enough. Instead of trying to expand on an already existing platform Google decided to build a new one from scratch and the effort is well worth it.

For even more nostalgia, here’s the video that Google made available at the time providing a look at Android.