What Is an Android Phone?

android robot

So, here it is: Android is an operating system (the software) that runs on a phone, and phone is just your regular smartphone. Now in detail…

You know, even if something becomes insanely popular there will always be people asking what it is… Last week someone told me that they heard about a new company called ‘Google’ and the big thing about it was that it makes mobile phones. ‘Maybe made-in-china type dimwit phones,’ that someone told me.

A lot of the phone users out there (smartphone users and regular mobile phone users) are readers of this blog. In that case, most people assume that people know what Android is, what iOS is, and so on. However, there are people who are new to this industry and are always wondering what these mobile technologies really are? Here is an introductory post into Google’s Android operating system telling you exactly what an Android phone is.

In order for a phone to work, it needs hardware as well as software. Without software, a smartphone is essentially brick. With software, it is a communication, business, & entertainment tool, essential today. There is a number of software running on smartphones today—Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, RIM’s BlackBerry, etc. Such software that powers the entire device is known as operating system. Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

The Mobile Operating System Known as Android


Google owns and controls Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world. It powers 47 per cent of the smartphones in the US market (by Dec 2011). Here is the statistic given by Comscore, and it literally shows the progress Android has made in recent years.

north american os statistics

old phone new phone

The other interesting things you see are the decline of Symbian (Nokia) and Palm and the steady growth of Apple iOS along with Android. RIM BlackBerry is still ticking, but for how long…

Look at the phone you have: you can call your friends with it, you can receive calls, you can probably listen to music, and you play games as well, depending on the features available on it. Whether you are using the obsolete Nokia 1100 that can do nothing other than calling, or the latest iPhone 5 that can run any of the 700,000 apps in the Apple store, the phone is distinguished by two factors—the hardware and the software.

Now, in terms of hardware, phones like Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3 have no competition, but have you ever wondered why people go for the iPhone, a Windows phone, a BlackBerry, or an Android phone?  It is the difference in the software that runs in the phone that determines what people want. The software program that powers a phone is known as a mobile operating system. Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone are all operating systems.

There is only one difference between these OSes (and this concerns businesses rather than end users)—Apple makes iOS available only to its products, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, etc., Microsoft makes Windows Phone available to manufacturers at a specific fee, and Google makes Android available to any manufacturer at no cost.

Now other apparent differences in interface and applications available are there which are beyond the scope of this article.

A Brief History of Android


There was a company named Android Inc. in 2003 that started developing a mobile operating system for smartphone manufacturers. It was started by four people—Andy Rubin (a former employee of Apple and Philips), Richard Miner (who used to be a VP at Orange and is now an investment partner for Google Ventures), Nick Sears (who used to work at T-Mobile), and Chris White (who pioneered WebTV technology).

In the beginning itself, Google smelled the startup and went in to finance the development. Google was acquiring unusual number of patents related to mobile technologies these days indicating its immediate entry into the mobile business. Android Inc., started building a mobile operating system based on Linux in secrecy to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Symbian from Nokia. Google acquired Android and the operating system was released in 2007, along with the formation of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA).

OHA is a collaboration of 84 multibillion dollar companies worldwide, including Google, Samsung, Intel, T-Mobile, NVidia, HTC, LG, Sony, Acer, Lenovo, etc. Google heads the development in Android currently.

The first Android phone, HTC Dream was released in 2008, and proved to be a disappointment. iPhone had become a phenomenon by then, literally!

Then came Motorola, looking for an opportunity to come back into mobile business (which it was about to close up due to intense competition), and that gave birth to Motorola Droid, a runaway success that established Android as the next big thing in mobile operating systems.

The success of Android made other manufacturers jump into this new OS. Google started its own series of smartphones by 2010 named Nexus. Google gives the contract for manufacturing Nexus phones to various manufacturers—Samsung, HTC, LG, etc.

Google markets Android with Apache license, which gives permission to anybody to freely modify and distribute Android for profit. This is the reason behind Android’s immediate business success. Imagine an operating system like iOS; Apple has iron fist around it. Apple controls the hardware and the software and the third party apps that run on iPhone. But with Android, anybody can create anything to run on it, and any manufacturer can release any modification to the operating system. It is that flexible. And it enjoys continuous development unlike iOS.

Version History


Android releases are named after a dessert. I don’t know who came up with that convention. May be it’s inspired by Apple’s convention of naming its operating system after animals. Here are the major versions of Android…

Android Beta: released 5 Nov 2007

Version 1.0: released in Sept 2008. The first Android device was HTC Dream.

Version 1.5 (Cupcake): 30 Apr, 2009. This is the first version to be named after a dessert.

Version 1.6 (Donut): 15 Sept, 2009

Version 2.0 (Éclair): 26 Oct, 2009. Version 2.1 Éclair was used for the first ever Google phone, Nexus One, manufactured by HTC.

Version 2.2.x (Froyo): 20 May, 2010

Version 2.3.x (Gingerbread): 6 Dec 2010; along with this the Nexus S (manufactured by Samsung) was released (second phone in Google Nexus series).

Version 3.x (Honeycomb): 22 Feb, 2011; this is not a smartphone OS, but a tablet OS. Several tablets including HTC JetStream, Lenovo ThinkPad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, etc., use Honeycomb.

Version 4.0.x (Ice Cream Sandwich): 19 Oct, 2011. This is a smartphone OS with capability of 1080p HD video recording. The Galaxy Nexus (Samsung) was released with this update.

Version 4.1, 4.2 (Jelly Bean): 27 Jun, 2012; Jelly Bean update makes Android more user-friendly and fast. LG-manufactured Google Nexus 4 released very recently includes 4.2 Jelly Bean update.

usage stats of various android versions
Android version usage statistics


Phones & Tablets to Choose From


Android as we saw earlier is the most popular mobile operating system in the world. All major manufacturers, Samsung, HTC, Acer, Dell, LG, etc., have Android-powered devices. Tablets and smartphones!

The latest Nexus was released by LG. It is an amazing phone with great features. Probably the first ever phone with 2GB RAM, it packs power. Processor is quad-core 1.5 GHz; display is 4.7 inch LCD IPS; 8MP camera, etc. However, the disappointment is in the available storage options which include only 8 GB or 16 GB.

google nexus 4


The most popular phones running Android include Galaxy S3 from Samsung and HTC One X.

Tablets that you can purchase include Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Sony Tablet S, Lenovo ThinkPad, and Galaxy Tab from Samsung.

Why Should You Buy an Android Phone?


There is no specialty to Android devices or the operating system. There is nothing that Android offers that other operating systems can’t. The bottom line: it’s just another mobile operating system and it can run applications just like any other. Then why has Android become so popular and why are people buying them?

Android is a manufacturer’s dream. It is available for anybody without any fees. And anyone can make modifications to the operating system and create their own version of Android. This is the reason why HTC could come up with Sense UI (a user interface overlay on basic Android) and Samsung has its own overlay known as TouchWiz.

Previously Nokia-owned Symbian platform provided this freedom until when it had to restrict the license due to proprietary parts within the OS. That literally caused the end of Symbian.

Since all manufacturers can develop devices based on Android, there is a huge array of smartphones to choose from with enormously wide range of features—displays as big as five inches, processors as high as 1.5 or 2 GHz dual and quad core, memory as high as 2 GB. Compare this with Apple iPhone 5 (4-inch display, 1.3 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM).

iphone 5 vs galaxy s3


Besides this, you can get thousands of apps from the Google Play store (official app store of Android). Since Android platform allows seamless development, you can see all kinds of software at the Play Store.
evolution of cellphones
This is the reason why people who like diversity and better hardware and software features opt for Android.



One million activations per day! That’s what Google’s latest update says about Android. Due to its wide availability and portability, Android has become a manufacturer’s dream. With seamless integration to Google and its services, Android smartphone is inevitable for anybody who regularly uses Google.

[Image credit: ITProPortal, Wikipedia, AbovetheCrowd]

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