On the 23rd of this month, the Android OS turned 10 years old.
Yet, the dynamic operating system that has taken the smartphone world by storm had an awkward start.
Android had an awkward early years
According to data by StatCounter, Android currently holds a 76.82% share of the OS market. This domination of the market, however, did not happen overnight.
2008 saw the first ever Android-powered phone: the HTC T-Mobile G1. One year after the breakout success of the first iPhone, and the booming demand for touchscreen smartphones, Google had opted to roll out their OS in a phone with a slide-out keyboard feature. This was a time period when Nokia still had a grasp on the market, and 2007 had seen the release of their N81 phone.
It was only around 2010/2011 that Android truly began picking up speed, and that is thanks to a great feature that truly propelled Android to the mainstream.
(Graph by Statista)
Open-source software was Android’s ticket to success
Android’s OS was different than most other OS’s: It was open-source. This meant that anyone could acquire the code free-of-charge and alter the software to their liking.
In 2009, Samsung released their first Android-powered phone: the Galaxy i7500. With it, Samsung realized the potential of an open-source OS that they can tweak and redesign to their liking, all while saving on R&D costs for a new in-house OS during a time when iOS was revolutionizing how we interact with our smartphones.
2011 saw Samsung commit to this, releasing the first phone in the series that has since rivaled the iPhone: the Galaxy S series. The first Galaxy S phone was a sign of things to come, and it was the day Android became a staple of the OS market.
Soon, other companies hopped on aboard. A free, open-source OS for them to customize to their liking? What was there not to like?
Exclusivity and the allure of ‘premium’ held Apple back
During this time period, in the early 2010s, the iPhone was surging in popularity but had been locked in exclusivity to carrier AT&T in the US. This left competitor carriers with no revolutionary touchscreen smartphones to market to their consumers.
“ Rubin (founder of Android) and his team pitched as a platform for developers, not consumers, which made carriers and phone manufacturers feel more comfortable,” Business Insider explains.
Android took advantage of this exclusivity and decided to conquer the rest of the carrier market.
Furthermore, the iPhone was associated with a premium, top-of-the-line brand identity, which locked out lower-earning customers. Android also capitalized on that, as its OS was gradually being implemented by several manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola and Samsung. These companies, unlike Apple, market several different phones to several different audiences, from top-of-the-line flagship phones to budget-friendly alternatives. This meant that Android was exposed to much more customers across a wide array of earning demographics, whether on the high-end or the low-end.
This also came at a time when Blackberry and Nokia were being slowly kicked out of the market.
Both Blackberry and Nokia offered models on both ends of the price spectrum, and with these companies slow to adapt to the boom in touchscreen popularity, Android was in a prime position to scoop up their market share – which it eventually did. Android’s rising popularity meant that when companies like Nokia rolled out their own OS’s (in this case a partnership between Microsoft and Nokia), it was too late.
Android has even gone solo
For customers that want to do without the software clutter of third-party manufacturers, Android has been giving customers a different option: a pure Android smartphone.
Partnering with different manufacturers every few years or so, Android would annually release phones offering the unfiltered Android experience: Previously the Nexus series, and currently the Pixel series. These assigned manufacturers, such as LG and HTC, would only handle the physical production of these phones, while the design and every other aspect of the phone would be handled by Android.
Android has not been without its flaws
Android’s open-source software offers a great deal of freedom, but this flexibility comes at a price. For example, the apps on the Google Play store aren’t vetted nearly as much as those that hit the Apple App Store. Malicious apps could find their way into Google’s store.
Also, the fact that Android runs on many devices means that app developers will need to test their app on all kinds of smartphones, meaning some might be left out, ending up with a non-optimized app experience.
CNET, a tech site, also talks about problems with Android phones slowing down. This is due to accumulated data in the cache and internal storage that tends to slow down phones running Android.
Android is also known to consume a large amount of RAM while in idle mode even. CNET also notes that using CPU-intensive apps causes some Android phones to overheat.