Android (/ˈæn.drɔɪd/; an-droyd) is a Linux-based operating system designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones andtablet computers. Initially developed by Android, Inc., which Google backed financially and later bought in 2005, Android was unveiled in 2007 along with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance: a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices. The first Android-powered phone was sold in October 2008.
Android is open source and Google releases the code under the Apache License. This open source code and permissive licensing allows the software to be freely modified and distributed by device manufacturers, wireless carriers and enthusiast developers. Additionally, Android has a large community of developers writing applications (“apps”) that extend the functionality of devices, written primarily in a customized version of the Java programming language. In October 2012, there were approximately 700,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play, Android’s primary app store, was 25 billion. A developer survey conducted in April–May 2013 found that Android is the most popular platform for developers, used by 71% of the mobile developer population.
These factors have contributed towards making Android the world’s most widely used smartphone platform, overtaking Symbian in the fourth quarter of 2010, and the software of choice for technology companies who require a low-cost, customizable, lightweight operating system for high techdevices without developing one from scratch. As a result, despite being primarily designed for phones and tablets, it has seen additional applications on televisions, games consoles, digital cameras and other electronics. Android’s open nature has further encouraged a large community of developers and enthusiasts to use the open source code as a foundation for community-driven projects, which add new features for advanced users or bring Android to devices which were officially released running other operating systems.
Android’s share of the global smartphone market, led by Samsung products, was 64% in March 2013. In July 2013 there were 11,868 different Android devices, scores of screen sizes and eight OS versions simultaneously in use. The operating system’s success has made it a target for patent litigation as part of the so-called “smartphone wars” between technology companies. As of May 2013, a total of 900 million Android devices have been activated and 48 billion apps have been installed from the Google Play store.
Android, Inc. was founded in Palo Alto, California in October 2003 by Andy Rubin (co-founder of Danger), Rich Miner (co-founder of Wildfire Communications, Inc.), Nick Sears (once VP at T-Mobile), and Chris White (headed design and interface development at WebTV) to develop, in Rubin’s words “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. The early intentions of the company were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras, when it was realised that the market for the devices was not large enough, and diverted their efforts to producing a smartphone operating system to rival those of Symbian and Windows Mobile (Apple’s iPhone had not been released at the time). Despite the past accomplishments of the founders and early employees, Android Inc. operated secretly, revealing only that it was working on software for mobile phones. That same year, Rubin ran out of money. Steve Perlman, a close friend of Rubin, brought him $10,000 in cash in an envelope and refused a stake in the company.
Google acquired Android Inc. on August 17, 2005, making it a wholly owned subsidiary of Google. Key employees of Android Inc., including Rubin, Miner and White, stayed at the company after the acquisition. Not much was known about Android Inc. at the time, but many assumed that Google was planning to enter the mobile phone market with this move. At Google, the team led by Rubin developed a mobile device platform powered by the Linux kernel. Google marketed the platform to handset makers and carriers on the promise of providing a flexible, upgradable system. Google had lined up a series of hardware component and software partners and signaled to carriers that it was open to various degrees of cooperation on their part.
Speculation about Google’s intention to enter the mobile communications market continued to build through December 2006. Reports from the BBCand the Wall Street Journal noted that Google wanted its search and applications on mobile phones and it was working hard to deliver that. Print and online media outlets soon reported rumors that Google was developing a Google-branded handset. Some speculated that as Google was defining technical specifications, it was showing prototypes to cell phone manufacturers and network operators. In September 2007, InformationWeek covered an Evalueserve study reporting that Google had filed several patent applications in the area of mobile telephony.
On November 5, 2007, the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of technology companies including Google, device manufacturers such as HTC, Sony and Samsung, wireless carriers such as Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, and chipset makers such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, unveiled itself, with a goal to develop open standards for mobile devices. That day, Android was unveiled as its first product, a mobile device platform built on the Linux kernel version 2.6. The first commercially available phone to run Android was the HTC Dream, released on October 22, 2008.
Since 2008, Android has seen numerous updates which have incrementally improved the operating system, adding new features and fixing bugs in previous releases. Each major release is named in alphabetical order after a dessert or sugary treat; for example, version 1.5 Cupcake was followed by 1.6 Donut. The latest release is 4.3 Jelly Bean. In 2010, Google launched its Nexus series of devices—a line of smartphones and tablets running the Android operating system, and built by a manufacturer partner. HTC collaborated with Google to release the first Nexus smartphone, theNexus One. The series has since been updated with newer devices, such as the Nexus 4 phone and Nexus 10 tablet, made by LG and Samsung respectively. Google releases the Nexus phones and tablets to act as their flagship Android devices, demonstrating Android’s latest software and hardware features.
On 13 March 2013, it was announced by Larry Page in a blog post that Andy Rubin had moved from the Android division to take on new projects at Google. He was replaced by Sundar Pichai, who also continues his role as the head of Google’s Chrome division, which develops Chrome OS.
Android consists of a kernel based on Linux kernel version 3.x (version 2.6 prior to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), with middleware, libraries and APIswritten in C, and application software running on an application framework which includes Java-compatible libraries based on Apache Harmony. Android uses the Dalvik virtual machine with just-in-time compilation to run Dalvik ‘dex-code’ (Dalvik Executable), which is usually translated from Java bytecode. The main hardware platform for Android is the ARM architecture. There is support for x86 from the Android-x86 project, and Google TVuses a special x86 version of Android. In 2013, Freescale announced Android on its i.MX processor, i.MX5X and i.MX6X series. In 2012 Intel processors began to appear on more mainstream Android platforms, such as phones.
Android’s Linux kernel has further architecture changes by Google outside the typical Linux kernel development cycle. Android does not have a native X Window System by default nor does it support the full set of standard GNU libraries, and this makes it difficult to port existing Linux applications or libraries to Android. Support for simple C and SDL applications is possible by injection of a small Java shim and usage of the JNI like, for example, in the Jagged Alliance 2 port for Android.
Certain features that Google contributed back to the Linux kernel, notably a power management feature called “wakelocks”, were rejected by mainline kernel developers partly because they felt that Google did not show any intent to maintain its own code. Google announced in April 2010 that they would hire two employees to work with the Linux kernel community, but Greg Kroah-Hartman, the current Linux kernel maintainer for the stable branch, said in December 2010 that he was concerned that Google was no longer trying to get their code changes included in mainstream Linux. Some Google Android developers hinted that “the Android team was getting fed up with the process,” because they were a small team and had more urgent work to do on Android.
In August 2011, Linus Torvalds said that “eventually Android and Linux would come back to a common kernel, but it will probably not be for four to five years”. In December 2011, Greg Kroah-Hartman announced the start of the Android Mainlining Project, which aims to put some Android drivers, patches and features back into the Linux kernel, starting in Linux 3.3. Linux included the autosleep and wakelocks capabilities in the 3.5 kernel, after many previous attempts at merger. The interfaces are the same but the upstream Linux implementation allows for two different suspend modes: to memory (the traditional suspend that Android uses), and to disk (hibernate, as it is known on the desktop). The merge will be complete starting with Kernel 3.8, Google has opened a public code repository that contains their experimental work to re-base Android off Kernel 3.8.
The flash storage on Android devices is split into several partitions, such as “/system” for the operating system itself and “/data” for user data and app installations. In contrast to desktop Linux distributions, Android device owners are not given root access to the operating system and sensitive partitions such as /system are read-only. However, root access can be obtained by exploitingsecurity flaws in Android, which is used frequently by the open source community to enhance the capabilities of their devices, but also by malicious parties to install viruses and malware.
Whether or not Android counts as a Linux distribution is a widely debated topic, with the Linux Foundation and Chris DiBona, Google’s open source chief, in favour. Others, such as Google engineer Patrick Brady disagree, noting the lack of support for many GNU tools, including glibc, in Android.
This chart provides data about the relative number of devices running a given version of the Android platform as of July 8, 2013.
Code name Release date API level Distribution 4.3 Jelly Bean July 24, 2013 18 0.0% 4.2.x Jelly Bean November 13, 2012 17 5.6% 4.1.x Jelly Bean July 9, 2012 16 32.5% 4.0.3–4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich December 16, 2011 15 23.3% 3.2 Honeycomb July 15, 2011 13 0.1% 3.1 Honeycomb May 10, 2011 12 0% 2.3.3–2.3.7 Gingerbread February 9, 2011 10 34.1% 2.3–2.3.2 Gingerbread December 6, 2010 9 0% 2.2 Froyo May 20, 2010 8 3.1% 2.0–2.1 Eclair October 26, 2009 7 1.5% 1.6 Donut September 15, 2009 4 0.1% 1.5 Cupcake April 30, 2009 3 0%
AncusH S. Gaikwad