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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Enter Android in the smartphone operating system titans

In the clash of the smartphone operating system titans, we take a look at what Google has brought to the table.

BRINGING IT: A Google Android figurine sits on a welcome desk at the new Google office in Toronto. - Reuters
FANCY having a Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, or Jellybean?

While the list above seems like a mouth-watering spread of sinful desserts, it can refer to something else in the technological world today.

For the uninitiated, those are also the names of the different update versions of the Android smartphone operating system (OS).

Before we touch on the topic of Android, let's first start with smartphones and how they have become an integral part of our lives in this day and age.

It wasn't too long ago when the sheer mention of the word 'smartphone' brought to mind an image of a busy businessman holding a personal digital assistant (PDA) phone to check and send work e-mail messages on the fly.

Aside from businessmen and those with deep pockets, it was uncommon to see an average consumer owning a smartphone. Among my peers during my time as a student, anyone who owned a smartphone was deemed to be a rich spoilt brat.

Fast forward to today, the advancements of technology has made it so much easier to own a smartphone.

What is a smartphone? By Oxford dictionary's definition, a smartphone is a mobile phone that is able to perform many of the functions of a computer, typically having a relatively large screen and an operating system capable of running general-purpose applications.

The early smartphones came into existence in the 1990s, although the early incarnations of smartphones were basically mobile phones incorporating PDA (personal digital assistant) features, and not necessarily with large screens.

Throughout the years, there have been various operating systems supporting the vast multitude of smartphones that have reached the hands of consumers. Among the operating systems that we have come to know and love are Symbian, Palm OS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Android and iOS.

As the title suggests, this column will be all about Google's Android operating system.

Meteoric rise

The first ever smartphone sold running on the Android operating system was the HTC Dream, which was released in 2008.

Since then, Android has come a long way, climbing up the ranks and capturing the biggest share of the pie in the smartphone operating system market. Aside from smartphones, the operating system is also widely used on tablet computers.

With a whole plethora of Android devices being unleashed into the market, the operating system from Google overtook long-time leaders Symbian at the end of 2010 to be the world's most widely used smartphone operating system, according to online sources.

It is growing at an estimated 1.5 million activations per day. This means that everyday, 1.5 million Android devices are powered on by consumers for the first time. Android leads the smartphone OS world, with a market share of 75% during the third quarter of 2012.

Being a product of Google, Android smartphones come readily available with a staple of Google applications (apps), such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google+ and Google Chrome browser.

Interestingly, every update version of the operating system is named after a form of dessert, and in alphabetical order. The first system version was named Donut (1.6), followed by Eclair (2.0 - 2.1), Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3), Honeycomb (3.1 - 3.2), Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), and Jellybean (4.1 - 4.2).

Unlike the other main operating systems in the smartphone market, Google has made its Linux-based OS open source. This means that the software can be freely distributed and modified by device manufacturers, wireless carriers and developers.

This move has successfully attracted a large community of app developers, as can be proven by the whopping 800,000 apps available for download on the Google Play store as of January.

In October 2012, the Google Play store celebrated a milestone of 25 billion app downloads.

Tailor made

Android has become a favourite choice for manufacturers as it is easy to adopt and implement, rather than having to develop a whole new operating system from scratch. We can find this operating system from Google being adopted by a diverse range of manufacturers, ranging from big brand names such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG to smaller, upstart Chinese companies.

However, not every Android smartphone provides the same experience. Different hardware manufacturers have different "skins" or add-ons, above the base Android software, to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Samsung's Touchwiz user interface and HTC's Sense user interface are examples of the types of "flavoured" Android offerings by other manufacturers.

Google also collaborates with different hardware manufacturers to release their flagship Android smartphones under the Google Nexus line. The Nexus phones provide the original "vanilla" Android experience for users and are the first to receive the latest Android version updates.

Because of this diversity, we can find Android smartphones for every segment of the market. Aside from the pricier high-end smartphones, there is also a wide selection of mid- to low-end Android smartphones which are more affordable, hence making it easier for more consumers to own a smartphone.

Android has been so popular that we are seeing it in more and more electronic products and not just smartphones or tablets. There are even manufacturers who are starting to incorporate Android into their microwave ovens!

Among the advantages of the Android operating system are its ability to multitask, the huge amount of options for devices, the notification bar, homescreen widgets, and the connectivity to the Google brand. The advantages and disadvantages of the operating system will be delved into in future editions of this weekly column which will appear on

This weekly column will be a medium to share about everything Android. Expect to read about news on the operating system updates, app reviews or the new devices running on Google's operating system. Stay tuned!

(Donovan is a full-time auditor and big-time gadget lover who discovered the wonders of the Android world after a chance encounter with Samsung's Galaxy S back in October 2010.)
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