On January 17, the eagerly-anticipated update of Android 7.0 Nougat was made available to users of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge in some parts of Europe and China, with the U.S. expected to follow shortly. Early users have praised the new update for its more energy-efficient resolution, lighter theme, Blue Light Filter, Always On Display notification upgrade, alphabetized app drawer, cleaner settings menu as well as other improvements. These updates represent the latest developments in a series of innovations that has characterized Android history. Here’s a look back at how Android’s innovations propelled the platform to where it is today, along with a peek ahead at what’s to come.
Origins of an iPhone Alternative
The Android story began in October 2003, when former Apple engineer Andy Rubin co-founded the company in Palo Alto, California. Originally seeking to develop an operating system for mobile cameras, Rubin’s team soon shifted gears toward developing an open source operating system that would rival Nokia operating platform Symbian and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. Google wanted more smartphones to use its search engine and was looking to compete with Microsoft and Blackberry in the mobile phone market, so the company decided to acquire Android in 2005.
Under Google, Android’s team began developing a mobile platform built on the Linux kernel. Meanwhile, Google sought a suitable phone. Working with HTC, Google first tested a BlackBerry-style keyboard design. Under the influence of the iPhone, touchscreen functionality was added. The resulting phone was the HTC Dream, better known in the United States as the T-Mobile G1, which debuted in October 2008 as the first Android phone.
The new phone attracted attention for its open-source operating system, along with its integration with Google’s online services and its notification display for recent app-pushed messages. Meanwhile, in 2009, Android rolled out the first of its snack-themed updates, Cupcake, which started with the letter C to signify its succession to the Alpha and Beta versions. Each subsequent update would be named after a snack starting with the next letter of the alphabet.
After early phone releases in partnership with HTC, Motorola and Samsung, Android landed a partnership with Verizon, then struggling to find a phone to compete with the iPhone. Joining forces with Motorola and Lucasfilm, Verizon and Android came up with Droid, a new phone released in the U.S. in October 2009 with the Android 2.0 Éclair update.
Verizon’s marketing positioned Droid against the iPhone by playing up its ability to multitask and its voice search capability. The Droid’s Star Wars association won instant brand awareness, and it became the most popular Android phone.
Striking it Big with Samsung
In 2010, Google released its own Nexus line of phones, which, unlike rivals, could be purchased online. Motorola and HTC also released new Android phones.
But the year’s biggest breakthrough was the Samsung Galaxy S. The phone introduced Samsung’s SuperAMOLED display and 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, the predecessor of the Exynos. Samsung also released the first Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab, to compete with the iPad. This set the stage for the 2011 introduction of the Galaxy Note, which brought Android into the phablet market.
The Galaxy series propelled Android into the upper echelons of smartphones alongside the iPhone. Samsung became the dominant Android phone on the market. Improvements to the Galaxy series display screen, user interface, processor, camera and mobile payment capability gradually pushed the S series to the forefront of the smartphone market, where it remains today.
Expanding into the Internet of Things
Meanwhile, Android’s empire continued to expand. In 2013, Android laptops, smartwatches, eyeglasses and digital media players appeared. In 2014, Android began appearing in Chromebooks, TVs and cars. Android now stood at the center of the Internet of Things.
Enhanced IoT integration looks to be one of the outstanding features of the upcoming Galaxy S8, expected this spring. Industry watchers report the new phone will feature an AI digital assistant with a male voice named Bixby and a female voice named Kendra. Bixby can handle mobile payments through voice alone. Bixby’s platform will reportedly integrate with other mobile devices and smart appliances, making Samsung competitive with Google Home and Amazon Alexa in the smart home space.