How Android took over the world: A brief history of Google’s mobile OS

Features Richard Goodwin 14:29, 8 Nov 2012

How did Google’s Android platform become the world’s number one smartphone OS? We take a look at the little green man’s colourful history to find out

By 2016 Android will power more computing devices around the world than Microsoft’s Windows software, according to Gartner. Not bad for a platform that’s only just turned five years old. 

Since 2007 Android has grown and grown, then grown some more, surpassing Symbian, iOS, and RIM’s BlackBerry. But it has also contributed, along with Apple’s iOS-powered devices, to a steady reduction in the number of PC shipments per year, meaning we are now very much in a post-PC era. 

The Advent of Android

Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and Nokia all had their respective ‘smartphone’ platforms well underway by the time Google released the first version of Android back in 2007. In this respect Android was very much an underdog in the developing smartphone space – it had no traction, no brand, and very few hardware partners. 

At this juncture in time Symbian dominated the mobile space almost entirely, with Apple’s iOS playing the part of ‘new kid on the block.’ Then, iOS was modern and forward thinking – the physical manifestation of where the market was going. 

Between 2007 and 2008 it was clear that the mobile space was at the cusp of something big. But no one could have imagined that Android would, in the space of several short years, eclipse everybody else in the space, including Apple and the then-dominant Symbian platform. 

The Present Day

At the close of Q3 2012 Android controlled 68.1 per cent of the smartphone market, according to IDC, up almost 20 per cent from 46.7 per cent a year earlier. Apple’s iOS came in second place with just 26 per cent, leaving the rest – BlackBerry, Symbian, Linux, and Windows Phone – to squabble over the crumbs

So how did all this happen? 

The Genesis of Android

Rumours about Google entering the smartphone space reached boiling point following the launch of Apple’s original iPhone in 2007. Many expected Google to follow Apple’s lead and release a smartphone powered by proprietary software. 

This, of course, didn’t happen and Google instead chose to unveil a Linux-based open-source operating system, which it debuted in 2007 alongside the Open Handset Alliance – a collection of 86 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices. 

Android Inc. circa 2003

Andy Rubin, along with Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White, founded Android Inc. in 2003 with the intention of building a class of smarter mobile device which was ‘more aware of its owner’s location and preferences.’

Android Inc. was highly secretive though and not much was known about the company, other than who its founding members were and that they ran of cash at one point. Google officially acquired the company in 2005, absorbing everything – including Rubin, Sears, and White. 

Once re-located at Google, Rubin was tasked with creating a mobile phone operating system powered by the Linux kernel. It was at this point that rumours began circulating that Google was entering the mobile space, despite no one really knowing how the search-giant planned on attacking the market.

‘Google has come out of the closet at the CeBIT trade fair admitting that it is working on a mobile phone of its own,’ commented Nomura phone analyst Richard Windsor back in 2006.

He added: ‘This is not going to be a high-end device but a mass market device aimed at bringing Google to users who don't have a PC.’

The Open Handset Alliance

Google unveiled Android on November 5, 2007. It was the first product of the Open Handset Alliance and was the start of Google’s movement towards the mobile sector. 

Here’s how Google described the first iteration of Android: 

‘Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications -- all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation,’ said Andy Rubin on the Google Blog.

The end goal of Android was described as follows: ‘through deep partnerships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, we hope to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform.’

Progress was initially slow, however, and it took almost another year before the world’s first Android-powered handset, the HTC Dream, was released on October 22, 2008. 

Sponsored Links