The Evolution of Android – Part II
Android is six years old now. One week ago, we presented the first part of the Android story. Now, it’s time to continue the journey.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—located in Mountain View, the first version of the operating system dedicated for tablets was born. Google called it 3. 0 Honeycomb and presented it alongside the Motorola Xoom.
For the first time, the company decided to leave the source code closed. Clearly, they were trying to implement some unique features—and they did. Notification area toggles were introduced and graphics rendering was transferred to the Graphic Processing Unit (GPU), making the system much more responsive with increased UI performance. And speaking about performance, that was the first time where more than one core was used in a popular Android device—a trend which has continued now with our ongoing specifications war.
The next version introduced by Google was 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Aimed at both phones and tablets alike, Google launched the OS alongside a very popular device: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. ICS was released on October 19th, 2011. For the first time, the Linux 3.0.1 kernel was used, and most of features known from Honeycomb were ported. The GNex lacked physical buttons, which were replaced by software equivalents. The purpose of this was to maximize the available 4.65″ screen area. Users were able to unlock the phone just by looking at their devices, and Holo, which was first showcased in rudimentary form in Honeycomb, was refined.
Half a year after ICS was introduced, Google unveiled Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Google released 4.1 with the Asus-manufactured Google Nexus 7. Jelly Bean was spread into three major updates: 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3. These three combined eventually went on to became the most popular version of the operating system, currently accounting for more than 50% of Android devices that have access to Google Play.
Android 4.1 brought various improvements such as Project Butter, richer notifications, indoor maps, Google Now, and much more. Android 4.2 was first seen on the incredibly popular LG-sourced Google Nexus 4. Then, the Asus-made Google Nexus 7 (2013) first showcased Android 4.3, which brought various enhancements such as the previously covered SELinux. Along the way, the camera software received various updates such as the swipe-to-dismiss UI paradigm, Photosphere, and more.
Around this time, much speculation arose that the next version of Android would be version “5.0 Key Lime Pie.” However, we now all know that the next version eventually became Android 4.4 KitKat.
The new OS was released on Halloween 2013, alongside the highly anticipated LG-sourced Google Nexus 5. There were a substantial number of feature additions in this version, but one of the main objectives was to make the OS run better on lower end devices, such as those with only 512 megs of RAM. The new ART compiler was also introduced in 4.4, and it’s quite possible that it will replace Dalvik in the future after further refinement.
However, not all is well with Android’s latest version, as many are worried that in an attempt to regain some control over the platform, Google may make the system almost unusable without their closed source applications. Unfortunately, they have already decided to abandon many of the previous AOSP applications in favor of closed source, Google applications. These include Chrome, Hangouts, and the new Google Experience Launcher. While this may not mean much for end users now, nobody knows what this will hold for the future of the platform.
Over the last six years, Android has changed from that cute little green robot to the massive force that it is today. Google is now the biggest player in the mobile market, and the majority of new smartphones are running Android. This success is driven in part by the freedom and customization that the software affords. New OEMs can make modifications such as TouchWiz or Sense, and add extra extra features on top of the already feature-packed OS. That said, we can only hope that Google will rethink its course regarding replacing open source applications with proprietary counterparts, as this eventually takes away the freedom that we have all grown to love.