Android is an operating system (OS) developed for mobile devices. Similar to Windows or Mac operating systems that control desktop and laptop computers, Android is built to control mobile devices, including smartphones, internet tablets and netbooks.
Android is an open-source platform, meaning interested parties can contribute to the development of Android and cater the software to meet their needs and desires. As an engineer close to the early development of Android succinctly put it, Android gives you “the ability to have your cell phone do whatever the heck you want it to do.”
With the introduction of Android, handset manufacturers and wireless carriers have the unprecedented ability to develop, build and distribute a wholly customized product. Android stands to dramatically speed up the rate of mobile innovation, allowing developers to collaborate in ways never before seen to bring innovations to the end-user more quickly.
There’s no question that Apple’s iPhone was innovative, if not revolutionary. Yet, the iPhone is in many ways Android’s antithesis. While Apple aims to provide the best user experience by unequivocally restricting the iPhone’s hardware and software, Android looks to accomplish the same ends very differently – by inviting innovation from anyone with a contribution to make.
Originally developed by Google, the search giant handed off Android’s reigns to the Open Handset Alliance – a consortium of hardware, software and telcom companies including HTC, Intel, LG, Motorola, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, T-Mobile, and Texas Instruments, among numerous others.
There are thousands of applications available for the Android platform, and the list is quickly growing larger and larger as Android makes its way to new handsets and wireless carriers. The Android Market offers both free and paid applications, discoverable and downloadable from any Android device. Google does not screen applications, and any developer can create applications for the Android platform. The Android Market provides descriptions, screen shots, and ratings and reviews from the Android community for each application.
Because of Android’s Google origins, many Android devices are closely integrated with a variety of Google’s litany of services. Google search with voice, Gmail, and Google Calendar are pre-installed on most Android handsets. While Android itself is wholly open source, Google’s applications remain closed-source and can only be provided through approved distribution channels.
For nearly a year, the T-Mobile G1 ruled the roost as the only Android handset on the U.S. market. In July of 2009, at the same time as many wireless industry leaders began giving Android the official nod, mirroring sentiments that Android was “ready for primetime,” the T-Mobile myTouch 3G hit the market. Since that time, Android fever has seemingly gripped the wireless industry, with leading manufacturers including Dell, HTC, Motorola and Samsung announcing plans to bring Android-based handsets to every major U.S. carrier.
With Android handsets already available or soon headed to every major U.S. carrier, consumers in the market for an Android-powered device will have no shortage of choices. Android phones require specialized data plans similar to those required for BlackBerry devices and iPhones. While rate plans vary by carrier, data plans require monthly fees in addition to those assessed for voice (minutes used) and features such as text messaging.
In the short time since its first appearance on the T-Mobile G1, Android has come an impressively long way. The mobile operating system has improved dramatically and overcome lukewarm initial reception, and won the acceptance and even devotion of handset manufacturers, wireless carriers and consumers alike. Many industry observers predict that Android will overtake RIM’s BlackBerry OS to become the second most widespread smartphone operating system in the next several years.