In July 2005, Google acquired Android, Inc., a small startup company based in Palo Alto, California. At the time rumors began to fly that Google was planning on building their own phone in a bid to upset the status quo with a “free cellular phone” and “free cellular service”, they’d be able to pay for this with ad revenues from people searching and surfing from the phone.
The rumors about a “free phone” turned out to be false, but it’s interesting to see where Android came from, where it is today, and where Google says it’s headed.
History of Android
A preview release of the Android software development kit (SDK) was released in November of 2007. Several months later (mid-August 2008) the Android 0.9 SDK (software development kit) beta was released. The following month (late-September 2008) the Android 1.0 SDK (Release 1) was released.
Six months later (early-March 2009), Google released version 1.1 for the Android “dev phone”.
Updated included minor aesthetic changes, a few “crucial updates”, support for “search by voice”, paid applications (via the Android Market), alarm clock fixes, Gmail fixes, and some others.
In the middle of May 2009, Google released version 1.5 (“Cupcake”) of the Android OS and SDK which included new features such as video recording, support for the stereo Bluetooth profile, a customizable onscreen keyboard system, voice recognition, and the AppWidget framework (which allowed developers to create their own home screen widgets).
Android 1.5 was the version that most early adopters ran on their first phones (including the T-Mobile G1 and HTC Dream), and is still the “current” version on many Android handsets including the Sprint and HTC Hero, and Motorola Cliq, Blur, and Backflip.
In September 2009 the Android 1.6 (“Donut”) was released, featuring a better search, a battery usage indicator, and even a VPN control applet. This version has proven to be a major milestone in Android’s life. To the best of my knowledge, every handset that is not running a custom UI (HTC Sense, MotoBlur, etc.) is now running 1.6 (including the T-Mobile G1). Devices running a custom UI and Android 1.5 should be physically capable of running 1.6, but must wait for HTC and Motorola to provide updates (rumor has it the Sprint Hero’s may be getting an upgrade in mid-April 2010).
The Motorola Droid was released running Android 2.0.1 (“Eclair”) with many new features and built-in apps that required much faster hardware than the previous generation of Android devices.
Soon after the Google Nexus One was announced which runs Android 2.1 (which some people called “Flan” or “FroYo”, but Google still considers part of “Eclair). The Droid was recently upgraded to 2.1. This release improves networking and adds 3D capabilities to the phone, and is the next major milestone after 1.6.
It’s important to note that even with the Droid’s 2.1 upgrade, we’re seeing that some features aren’t available (Live Wallpaper, etc.) without some level of hacking. It’s likely what when and if 2.1 becomes available for the slower devices, that other features may not be available (the Nexus One’s app tray, 3D in the Gallery, and Google Earth).
Many have postulated about the damage to Android as a platform because of version fragmentation and Google’s “alleged” attempts to reel in fragmentation with “2.1 Updates for Everyone”.
What we’ve heard from Google is that future versions of the OS will continue to de-couple apps from the core OS such than people can (potentially) download those apps (or upgrades to them) from the Market, regardless of Android version — as long as the app is written with backwards compatibility in mind.
Right now the magic number is 1.6; I haven’t found any apps in the market that run on Eclair that don’t run on Donut.
What Android version are you running? Are you concerned about “version fragmentation”? Do you think 2.1 will come to your 1.5/1.6 phone?