Aug 22, 2019
Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past, we’re able to be prepared for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to look at the emergence of Google’s Android operating system. Before we look at Android, let’s look at what led to it. Frank Canova who built a device he showed off as “Angler” at COMDEX in 1992. This would be released as the Simon Personal Communicator by BellSouth and manufactured as the IBM Simon by Mitsubishi. The Palm, Newton, Symbian, and Pocket PC, or Windows CE would come out shortly thereafter and rise in popularity over the next few years. CDMA would slowly come down in cost over the next decade. Now let’s jump to 2003. At the time, you had Microsoft Windows CE, the Palm Treo was maturing and supported dual-band GSM, Handspring merged into the Palm hardware division, Symbian could be licensed but I never met a phone of theirs I liked. Like the Nokia phones looked about the same as many printer menu screens. One other device that is more relevant because of the humans behind it was the T-Mobile sidekick, which actually had a cool flippy motion to open the keyboard! Keep that Sidekick in mind for a moment. Oh and let’s not forget a fantastic name. The mobile operating systems were limited. Each was proprietary. Most were menu driven and reminded us more of an iPod, released in 2001. I was a consultant at the time and remember thinking it was insane that people would pay hundreds of dollars for a phone. At the time, flip phones were all the rage. A cottage industry of applications sprung up, like Notify, that made use of app frameworks on these devices to connect my customers to their Exchange accounts so their calendars could sync wirelessly. The browsing experience wasn’t great. The messaging experience wasn’t great. The phones were big and clunky. And while you could write apps for the Symbian in Qt Creator or Flash Lite or Python for S60, few bothered. That’s when Andy Rubin left Danger, the company the cofounded that made the Sidekick and joined up with Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White in 2003 to found a little company called Android Inc. They wanted to make better mobile devices than were currently on the market. They founded Android Inc and set out to write an operating system based on Linux that could rival anything on the market. Rubin was no noob when cofounding Danger. He had been a robotics engineer in the 80s, a manufacturing engineer at Apple for a few years and then got on his first mobility engineering gig when he bounced to General Magic to work on Magic Cap, a spinoff from Apple FROM 92 TO 95. He then helped build WebTV from 95-99. Many in business academia have noted that Android existed before Google and that’s why it’s as successful as it is today. But Google bought Android in 2005, years before the actual release of Android. Apple had long been rumor milling a phone, which would mean a mobile operating system as well. Android was sprinting towards a release that was somewhat Blackberry-like, focused on competing with similar devices on the market at the time, like the Blackberries that were all the rage. Obama and Hillary Clinton was all about theirs. As a consultant, I was stoked to become a Blackberry Enterprise Server reseller and used that to deploy all the things. The first iPhone was released in 2007. I think we sometimes think that along came the iPhone and Blackberries started to disappear. It took years. But the fall was fast. While the iPhone was also impactful, the Android-based devices were probably more-so. That release of the iPhone kicked Andy Rubin in the keister and he pivoted over from the Blackberry-styled keyboard to a touch screen, which changed… everything. Suddenly this weird innovation wasn’t yet another frivolous expensive Apple extravagance. The logo helped grow the popularity as well, I think. Internally at Google Dan Morrill started creating what were known as Dandroids. But the bugdroid as it’s known was designed by Irina Blok on the Android launch team. It was eventually licensed under Creative Commons, which resulted in lots of different variations of the logo; a sharp contrast to the control Apple puts around the usage of their own logo. The first version of the shipping Android code came along in 2008 and the first phone that really shipped with it wasn’t until the HTC Dream in 2009. This device had a keyboard you could press but also had a touch screen, although we hadn’t gotten a virtual keyboard yet. It shipped with an ARM11, 192MB of RAM, and 256MB of storage. But you could expand it up to 16 gigs with a microSD card. Oh, and it had a trackball. It bad 802.11b and g, Bluetooth, and shipped with Android 1.0. But it could be upgraded up to 1.6, Donut. The hacker in me just… couldn’t help but mod the thing much as I couldn’t help but jailbreak the iPhone back before I got too lazy not to. Of course, the Dev Phone 1 shipped soon after that didn’t require you to hack it, something Apple waited until 2019 to copy. The screen was smaller than that of an iPhone. The keyboard felt kinda’ junky. The app catalog was lacking. It didn’t really work well in an office setting. But it was open source. It was a solid operating system and it showed promise as to the future of not-Apple in a post-Blackberry world. Note: Any time a politician uses a technology it’s about 5 minutes past being dead tech. Of Blackberry, iOS, and Android, Android was last in devices sold using those platforms in 2009, although the G1 as the Dream was also known as, took 9% market share quickly. But then came Eclair. Unlike sophomore efforts from bands, there’s something about a 2.0 release of software. By the end of 2010 there were more Androids than iOS devices. 2011 showed the peak year of Blackberry sales, with over 50 million being sold, but those were the lagerts spinning out of the buying tornado and buying the pivot the R&D for the fruitless next few Blackberry releases. Blackberry marketshare would zero out in just 6 short years. iPhone continued a nice climb over the past 8 years. But Android sales are now in the billions per year. Ultimately the blackberry, to quote Time a “failure to keep up with Apple and Google was a consequence of errors in its strategy and vision.” If you had to net-net that, touch vs menus was a substantial part of that. By 2017 the Android and iOS marketshare was a combined 99.6%. In 2013, now Google CEO, Sundar Pichai took on Android when Andy Rubin was embroiled in sexual harassment charges and now acts as CEO of Playground Global, an incubator for hardware startups. The open source nature of Android and it being ready to fit into a device from manufacturers like HTC led to advancements that inspired and were inspired by the iPhone leading us to the state we’re in today. Let’s look at the released per year and per innovation: * 1.0, API 1, 2008: Include early Google apps like Gmail, Maps, Calendar, of course a web browser, a media player, and YouTube * 1.1 came in February the next year and was code named Petit Four * 1.5 Cupcake, 2009: Gave us on an-screen keyboard and third-party widgets then apps on the Android Market, now known as the Google Play Store. Thus came the HTC Dream. Open source everything. * 1.6 Donut, 2009: Customizeable screen sizes and resolution, CDMA support. And the short-lived Dell Streak! Because of this resolution we got the joy of learning all about the tablet. Oh, and Universal Search and more emphasis on battery usage! * 2.0 Eclair, 2009: The advent of the Motorola Droid, turn by turn navigation, real time traffic, live wallpapers, speech to text. But the pinch to zoom from iOS sparked a war with Apple.We also got the ability to limit accounts. Oh, new camera modes that would have impressed even George Eastman, and Bluetooth 2.1 support. * 2.2 Froyo, four months later in 2010 came Froyo, with under-the-hood tuning, voice actions, Flash support, something Apple has never had. And here came the HTC Incredible S as well as one of the most mobile devices ever built: The Samsung Galaxy S2. This was also the first hotspot option and we got 3G and better LCDs. That whole tethering, it took a year for iPhone to copy that. * 2.3 Gingerbread: With 2010 came Gingerbread. The green from the robot came into the Gingerbread with the black and green motif moving front and center. More sensors, NFC, a new download manager, copy and paste got better, * 3.0 Honeycomb, 2011. The most important thing was when Matias Duarte showed up and reinvented the Android UI. The holographic design traded out the green and blue and gave you more screen space. This kicked off a permanet overhaul and brought a card-UI for recent apps. Enter the Galaxy S9 and the Huawei Mate 2. * 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, later in 2011 - Duarte’s designs started really taking hold. For starters, let’s get rid of buttons. THat’s important and has been a critical change for other devices as well. We Reunited tablets and phones with a single vision. On screen buttons, brought the card-like appearance into app switching. Smarter swiping, added swiping to dismiss, which changed everything for how we handle email and texts with gestures. You can thank this design for Tinder. * 4.1 to 4.3 Jelly Bean, 2012: Added some sweet sweet fine tuning to the foundational elements from Ice Cream Sandwich. Google Now that was supposed to give us predictive intelligence, interactive notifications, expanded voice search, advanced search, sill with the card-based everything now for results. We also got multiuser support for tablets. And the Android Quick Settings pane. We also got widgets on the lock screen - but those are a privacy nightmare and didn’t last for long. Automatic widget resizing, wireless display projection support, restrict profiles on multiple user accounts, making it a great parent device. Enter the Nexus 10. AND TWO FINGER DOWN SWIPES. * 4.4 KitKat, in 2013 ended the era of a dark screen, lighter screens and neutral highlights moved in. I mean, Matrix was way before that after all. OK, Google showed up. Furthering the competition with Apple and Siri. Hands-free activation. A panel on the home screen, and a stand-alone launcher. AND EMOJIS ON THE KEYBOARD. Increased NFC security. * 5. Lollipop came in 2014 bringing 64 bit, Bluetooth Low Energy, flatter interface, But more importantly, we got annual releases like iOS. * 6: Marshmallow, 2015 gave us doze mode, sticking it to iPhone by even more battery saving features. App security and prompts to grant apps access to resources like the camera and phone were . The Nexus 5x and 6P ports brought fingerprint scanners and USB-C. * 7: Nougat in 2016 gave us quick app switching, a different lock screen and home screen wallpaper, split-screen multitasking, and gender/race-centric emojis. * 8: Oreo in 2017 gave us floating video windows, which got kinda’ cool once app makers started adding support in their apps for it. We also got a new file browser, which came to iOS in 2019. And more battery enhancements with prettied up battery menus. Oh, and notification dots on app icons, borrowed from Apple. * 9: Pie in 2018 brought notch support, navigations that were similar to those from the iPhone X adopting to a soon-to-be bezel-free world. And of course, the battery continues to improve. This brings us into the world of the Pixel 3. * 10, Likely some timed in 2019 While the initial release of Android shipped with the Linux 2.1 kernel, that has been updated as appropriate over the years with, 3 in Ice Cream Sandwich, and version 4 in Nougat. Every release of android tends to have an increment in the Linux kernel. Now, Android is open source. So how does Google make money? Let’s start with what Google does best. Advertising. Google makes a few cents every time you click on an ad in an advertisement in messages or web pages or any other little spot they’ve managed to drop an ad in there. Then there’s the Google Play Store. Apple makes 70% more revenue from apps than Android, despite the fact that Android apps have twice the number of installs. The old adage is if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. I don’t tend to think Google goes overboard with all that, though. And Google is probably keeping Caterpillar in business just to buy big enough equipment to move their gold bars from one building to the next on campus. Any time someone’s making money, lots of other people wanna taste. Like Oracle, who owns a lot of open source components used in Android. And the competition between iOS and Android makes both products better for consumers! Now look out for Android Auto, Android Things, Android TV, Chrome OS, the Google Assistant and others - given that other types of vendors can make use of Google’s open source offerings to cut R&D costs and get to market faster! But more importantly, Android has contributed substantially to the rise of ubiquitious computing despite how much money you have. I like to think the long-term impact of such a democratization of Mobility and the Internet will make the world a little less idiocracy and a little more wikipedia. Thank you so very much for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!