Almost everyone has heard of Android, but if you're a feature phone user, have been with Apple's iPhone from day-one, or haven't been more than 5 feet from a BlackBerry since 2005, you may not know that much about it.
In this Android 101 article, I'll go over some Android basics, and generally introduce you to Android-powered smartphones.
What is Android?
In short, Android is a mobile phone OS created by Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance as an alternative to iOS, Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone), WebOS and other so-called smartphone operating systems. Based on Linux, Android is a powerful and highly configurable operating system designed from the jump to offer functionality and expandability for consumers and business users on handheld devices - namely, phones.
So, what does that mean exactly? Put another way, Android is a standardized operating system, like Windows on a PC or the Mac OS on an Apple computer, designed and maintained by Google for smartphones. It also runs on some tablets, eReaders, and other devices, but for the purposes of this introduction, we'll focus on the smartphone versions of Android.
Android is also open, meaning that companies have the freedom to change the foundation of the OS as they see fit, add and remove features, change configuration options, add hardware support and so on. This openness is a double-edge sword, as we'll go over in another Android 101 article.
What's a Smartphone?
That depends largely on who you ask.
There are three types of mobile phones - or cell phones - sold today. Dumb phones, those that basically send and receive voice calls and text messages, Feature Phones, which in addition to those basic functions also have specific, limited features like web browsers or music players, and Smartphones.
Generally a phone is considered to be a smartphone if it (1) has a standardized OS found on other similar phones and can (2) run third-party applications designed for that OS, can (3) access the internet with a web-standards browser, and (4) and is compatible with different wireless data types (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G, etc.).
Newer feature phones sometimes include many of these features, so the line can be a blurry one.
All Android-powered phones are considered smartphones, whatever the definition of what makes a phone "smart" happens to be at any given time.
A (Very) Brief History of Android
The Android OS was originally the project of Android, Inc., a California startup working on developing "...smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner's location and preferences." Two years later, in 2005, Google purchased the company and began working on the Android OS.
In late 2007, Google and its partners announced Android to the world and the first device running the OS , the HTC Dream (sold in the U.S. as the T-Mobile G1), debuted nearly a year later.
Since early 2009, there have been many Android-powered phones built and released and the OS is generally accepted as the most widely-used smartphone OS currently in use. Today, all four major U.S. wireless carriers offer multiple Android smartphones.
Android's Software Foundation
There's a lot going on in Android, and the OS becomes more complex and functional with each new version.
From Wikipedia.org (6/2011): The Android open-source software stack consists of Java applications running on a Java-based, object-oriented application framework on top of Java core libraries running on a Dalvik virtual machine featuring JIT compilation. Libraries written in C include the surface manager, OpenCore media framework, SQLite relational database management system, OpenGL ES 2.0 3D graphics API, WebKit layout engine, SGL graphics engine, SSL, and Bionic libc. The Android operating system, including the Linux kernel, consists of roughly 12 million lines of code including 3 million lines of XML, 2.8 million lines of C, 2.1 million lines of Java, and 1.75 million lines of C++.
This is the most basic of introductions to Android; in the next few Android 101 articles, I'll discuss in more detail the features of the OS, what it does, how it does it, and what it can do for you.
M. Nichols, Products Editor
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