What is Android?
Android is the operating system that powers 2.5 billion active devices. It’s the reason your GPS avoids traffic, your phone automatically captions media and your assistant answers questions. It’s the foundation for your apps and a platform that lets you customize your device to fit your needs and lifestyle.
Android began life in 2003 as a Palo Alto-based startup that aimed to develop an operating system for digital cameras. The company soon realized that touchscreen phones were the future and revamped its software to work with these new devices. This version, called Cupcake, landed in April 2009 and helped set the stage for the massive popularity of Android.
Since then, the operating system has seen many updates. The latest, Marshmallow, launched in 2015 and brought a host of changes to the mobile experience. It improved multi-tasking, introduced a more intuitive app drawer, and added more security features. It also included Google Now on Tap, which acts like a Google-powered footnote for whatever you’re reading or viewing.
Because it is an open source system, the base code of android can be used by anyone without paying a licensing fee to the copyright holder (such as Apple’s iOS). This has enabled Android to be put on devices from many different manufacturers and offers limitless levels of customization. You’ll find manufacturer skins layered over this base from the likes of Samsung, Oppo and OnePlus, and Google can provide an almost-naked experience that’s all about its core services such as Gmail, Calendar, Maps and YouTube.
The default user interface on android is based on direct manipulation inputs like tapping, swiping and pinching and provides haptic feedback by vibrating when you touch navigation buttons or the power button. It also supports various screen resolutions, connectivity options (GSM/CDMA/LTE/4G/WiFi), and sensors such as a camera, GPS, accelerometer, compass, and microphone.
In addition to its smartphone and tablet applications, Android is also used in televisions, wearables and other connected devices such as smartwatches, cars, refrigerators and digital cameras. There are a growing number of Android-powered automotive systems and even robots.
Android has a variety of distribution models, but the most common one is for the operating system to come preinstalled on your phone by the manufacturer or carrier. This will often include a lot of apps you never use, which is known as bloatware. The good news is that you can get rid of most of this stuff by installing a clean version of the operating system on your phone. This process can take a while and depends on how you buy your phone and which carrier you’re with, but it is possible. One of the best examples is GrapheneOS, which is available for Pixel phones and offers a completely Google-free experience. It also comes with the F-Droid app store installed, which makes it easier to find a replacement for unwanted bloatware. The downside to this is that you won’t have access to the full range of Google services.