Android was the world’s first fully-open complete mobile platform. Its creators, Google and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), encourage an inclusive attitude for third-party developers in an attempt to fill their marketplace with innovation and fresh design.
Based on Linux, Android was specifically designed with original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) in mind, making sure that the operating system (OS) was simple and easy to deal with when creating and experimenting with new hardware and applications. Google and the OHA have stayed true to this ideal right up in to the present, keeping Android an open house for content developers around the world.
In just 18 months Android achieved over 60 compatible devices and now have an activation rate of over 100 000 units per day. Recently, Android has stormed ahead in sales with an amazing 32% of smartphones purchased in the USA running Android as their OS. When compared to Apple’s 25% and RIM’s 26%, Android is America’s new market leader in mobile OS’s.
The Android Operating System (OS)
To the average user an Android phone is, in a few basic ways, similar to the iPhone. The key difference between Android phones and the Apple iPhone range is that Apple controls and produces both the iPhone hardware and software whereas Android is a piece of software (operating system) that a phone manufacturer like LG, HTC or Samsung then licences to incorporate as the core software in their phones.
Both OS’s use a scrolling dynamic with a multi-touch screen for their main interface. However, Android is making leaps and bounds of late in regards to user interfaces (UIs), efficiency and convenience. With every new update Android takes huge strides towards market supremacy with great new features and software upgrades.
"With innovation coming at every layer it would be the consumer that would be able to benefit" - Vic Gundotra, Vice President of Engineering at Google.
Android Brings the Fun to the (Third) Party
Having an open platform means that Android’s OS is easily adopted by third party developers. Google and the OHA hope that over time this will encourage more and more developers to enter the Android market with applications and UI tweaks.
Android’s applications are all based in Java; a programming language almost every software designer is familiar with. This has encouraged not only big companies, but even indi and solo labels to pick up on Android’s growing popularity and get their product out there. Android hopes this policy of “innovation from everyone” (– Vic Gundotra, Vice President of Engineering for Google) will present its customers with a superior range of options for convenience and entertainment
The open-source benefits don’t end there. Programmers can make tweaks to the classic apps included in the Android package. It’s even possible to add customised options to your desktop’s Chrome browser that will communicate with your phone. One such demonstration at Google’s 2010 IO Conference was the installation of a send-to-phone button in Chrome, whereby a logged-in user on a computer sent the exact screen they were looking at on Googlemaps to their phone. This information is not sent by text or MMS, but instead triggered the navigation program on the user’s phone and pinpointed the location in question once the navigator had opened. This application is already available as a free download for Android users.
Google is even helping new Android developers get started by providing a wealth of information online to help educate potential programmers as a platform from which to start designing. If you feel like that’s something you’d be interested in check out this video on Android’s architecture.
Froyo (Android Version 2.2)
Android has come a long way since the T-Mobile G1 phone. In under 24 months Android went from a merely promising contender in the smartphone market to a dominating, solid product running on numerous devices that has become the envy of not only RIM and HP, but Apple as well.
From the Android Cupcake’s (v1.5) often sluggish response time right through to today’s more modern versions Google has listened to its consumers and made huge improvements every step of the way.
Although it's not the latest update, Froyo was a huge step for the Android OS. With it came some massive changes to not only the Android platform but also to smartphones around the world, as companies such as HP and Apple now had a new bar to contend with.
Tethering With Froyo
Google doesn’t see any reason to add another monthly internet bill to your budget for every web-gadget you buy. As a result Froyo allows your phone to tether internet wirelessly to anything with Wi-Fi capability in the immediate vicinity. For instance, want to buy a tablet but don’t want to pay any extra monthly 3G fees? Just turn on tethering with your Android phone and stream internet wirelessly right to your Wi-Fi iPad. That’s right, with Froyo you can turn your phone in to an internet hotspot at no additional cost. This feature has now becoming standard with smartphone developers, but we think it's important to note that Android was doing it before it was cool.
Another form of tethering Froyo has improved upon is the physical kind. You no longer need wires to connect your Android phone to your computer for updates or downloads. Instead you can access your phone wirelessly through the internet and make any necessary adjustments without ever physically syncing with a single desktop. There’s also the option of streaming your computer’s music library through your phone, giving users a wireless answer to playable music without taking up any valuable hard drive space.
It makes sense that as Android grows in popularity so will the number and diversity of its available apps. Android now boasts over 125 000 apps available from the Android marketplace and expects that number to only grow with time.
Along with the release of Froyo, Google also revamped its own app store. There’s still no reason to connect to a computer, even to transfer an app. Nor do you need to actually rely on your phone when browsing for new ones. The Android app store allows users who have logged-in on a computer to select an app and have it download directly to their phone, making it easier to find and download apps than ever before.
The makeover also includes an iTunes-style music section, where users can select, purchase and download music direct to their phones. Coupled with Froyo’s wireless music-streaming ability this makes any Froyo phone a powerful and solid media device.
For all those people who can’t seem to find a limit to the number of awesome apps they like to download but find it clutters up their interface Android has a search function that locates apps as you type. You don’t even have to type in the whole word, by typing in the letter “S”, for instance, every app you have beginning with “S” will appear in the screen below. By adding more letters the list will shorten until you can easily spot and select the app you’re after, hugely cutting down on the time taken search for an app in your hay stack.
One more area where Android excels with its apps is backing-up. Android owners can switch from one device to another without having to manually save and log their apps on a computer. Instead your profile is saved and access to whatever apps you’ve previously bought or installed is made instantly available to you with each subsequent device you use. It’s basically as easy as logging on.
Traditionally these backups have only included the apps themselves and not the saved data therein. However, one of Froyo’s new features is a data recovery service that will allow users to go from one device to another, taking not only their apps but all saved data as well. That means you keep all your high-scores, saved games, fitness data or anything else you might miss if deleted or lost.
As for application maintenance Froyo’s added a couple new perks there, too. While an “update all” button is no big news for app-junkies, the new auto-update button takes the hassle out of keeping up an up-to-date application folder. There’s also a “report” button for any apps that are buggy or just plain don’t work. Unlike with many OS’s, the report option is easy and unintimidating for the everyday user. This allows any problems to be identified and fixed quickly, keeping the high level of quality Android customers have come to expect from their applications.
Kicking it in to Hyperdrive
Google claimed that Android’s v2.2 update, ‘Froyo’, was the fastest mobile platform in the world for its time. Froyo offers speeds of up to 5x its predecessor, ‘Éclair’, and convincingly outstripped its contemporary, Apple’s iOS4, in test demonstrations.
The speed upgrades weren't just confined to just the phone’s internal processes. Google has found that after calls and texting the third most popular tool of any smartphone is the web browser. As a result Google focused on making Android’s browser 2-3x more responsive, allowing for more freedom and ease when surfing the web.
If you need further proof, check out this video of Froyo literally swimming laps around the iPad in the industry-standard “SunSpider” test.
Other Flashy Features
Froyo brought with it a variety of other features never before seen in the big mobile OS’s. One such extra perk is Flash support. That’s right, Android phones will soon support the web’s most prolific video and animation format within the browser. Finally smartphone users will have almost unlimited access to the internet at the tips of their fingers, without having to rely on third party applications.
Android has also seriously upgraded its voice recognition software. Now, you might roll your eyes when it comes to voice recognition because you’ve heard it all before, but before you skip to the next point take note that Google has done some impressive demonstrations of their new voice recognition protocols. At the IO Conference a live demonstration showed up accurate search results after a presenter submitted a voice request for “pictures of Barack Obama with the French President at the G8 Summit”. The test continued with such requests as “pictures of the golden gate bridge at sunset” showing the same positive results.
Not only has voice communication been upgraded and added to the browser, Android owners will soon have access to a real-life universal translator. By simply speaking to this application and selecting a language your phone will not only translate what you have said in text, but also speak it back to you using voice simulation software. This option isn’t ready for every language yet, but some of the more commonly spoken dialects can already be translated with ease.
Gingerbread, as you may tell from its designated number, is the version of Android proceeding Froyo. While Gingerbread didn't bring as many huge changes to the Android OS as Froyo did, it's still an improvement over its predecessor.
The stock-standard Google Android UI has been refined in a few handy ways, making it easier to learn, more power eficcient and faster to use. A few changes to the menus and settings have also made it easier to control and navigate the various features and functions of the handset.
Text input has been optimised for faster typers. The keys have been reshaped and moved slightly in order to accompany faster moving fingers and the input software itself has been upgraded to avoid those pesky missed letters that pop up every so often.
The keyboard now also makes use of the phone's multitouch capabilities and offers an easier way to input short numbers and symbols. The typist can simply hold shift+(letter) and ?123+(symbol) without needing to continuously switch back and forth between different keyboards.
Copy and Paste + Word Selection
Google has definitely improved its text selection method.
Pressing and holding the finger on a word enters a free selection mode where the user can drag arrows about the text in order to accurately select which words they wish to select. This is a much easier way than previous generations that either didn't have the same ability or relied on a trackball for accurate text selection.
As with every version of Android, Gingerbread offers a better power management system, giving the user more time to spend on their phones between recharges.
This time there is even a display screen that shows how much of your battery is being used by what processes and gives you the option to discontinue them if necessary.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
NFC is something that Google believes will eventually start repacing wallets and credit cards with people instead relying on their phones for money transfers. Whether or not this will actually happen (or if it's even a good idea) is still under debate. But for the mean time it seems to be quite the buzz in the tech industry.
The way NFC will work is that if you are purchasing a product from an NFC enabled store, all you will have to do is tap your phone against a screen and your money will be transferred automatically. Right now it's early days for this technology, but the big credit card companies are all trialling payments with mobile phones and this is the technology to do it with. We'll definitely be keeping our ears open on this one so keep an eye on our site for updates.
Another, function of NFC is media updates. Say you pass by an NFC enabled billboard that intrigues you. Just tap your phone up against the digital poster and you may be given session times, a trailer to watch or even a list of cast. Hopefully this service won't be too long-range in its targeting as we don't want to have our phones bombarded with ads constantly while we walk down the street.
Android is More Than Just Desserts
Google’s Vice-President of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, summed up their vision for Android when he said “we can’t wait to see what you’re going to do” with their open-source and hassle-free approach for new developers. Whether it be exciting new hardware from the OEM’s, customers developing their own software or exciting new third party apps, Android is aimed at being an innovative and inclusive platform at every layer of its construction. Android will continue to evolve and expand as it grows in popularity and momentum. If you're an Android customer, or are considering becoming one, it's always worth keeping your eye out for Android OS updates. You never know what they're going to include in their next sweet release.
Getting Started - Today's Top 5 Most Popular Android Phones
Take a look at the Top 5 Most Popular Android phones as compared by users on this site (full list of current Android phones and deals here)