There are two major operating systems used by mobile phones these days, Apple’s iOS, and Google’s Android operating system. A few years ago, there were quite a few more systems in use, but most of those have pretty much fallen by the wayside, leaving Android and iOS as the two remaining competitors for cellphone operating systems.
Android is an operating system that has been around for something like 15 years. While this is a Google product, it’s an open-source product, meaning that it can be used by anyone, even if that usage is commercial. That’s one big difference between Android and iOS, because iOS is a closed-source platform.
There’s no question that Android is the world’s most popular operating system for cellphones, having a market share that was very close to 70% at the beginning of 2022. By comparison, Apple’s iOS had less than a 30% share at that same time.
What’s an operating system?
If you’re not sure what an operating system does for a cellphone, it’s computer software that serves to integrate all the software and hardware resources being used by your cellphone. It is necessary for various types of hardware to collaborate and work in tandem, and to have software work smoothly with that hardware, as well as with other software programs.
Most people think of Android as being the cellphone operating system, but it can actually be found on many more devices as well. For instance, tablets also use Android as their operating system, which is not surprising, because in many respects they are really just large phones.
You’ll also find the Android operating system on many smartwatches, for instance, Wear OS, which bases its whole system on Android. Android-based operating systems are those that are fundamentally Android but have been tweaked to make them somewhat different while still using the same core code.
You’ll also find Android in some cases as the base system for powering some types of vehicles, and there’s a television platform called Android TV, which uses the Android operating system.
Origins of Android
When it was first conceived, Android was actually designed as operating system software for cameras. A team of developers began in 2003 with core code they borrowed from Linux, which is another operating system that has open sourcing. Their intention was to develop a universal operating system that could be used by all camera companies.
However, as development proceeded, the team realized that smartphones were the future, and they made a complete change in their approach to developing the operating system. They had difficulty attracting any kind of financial support, because at that time there were already a number of other operating systems which had a stranglehold on the market.
At this point, the project was nearly abandoned because the team ran out of money and had no prospects for attracting investors. However, a generous gift from a friend kept development on track, and it proceeded right to the end. Google saw the future of the Android operating system and purchased it in 2005 for approximately $50 million.
Google’s team then went to work at developing an operating system that would be completely compatible with cellphones, having a traditional QWERTY keyboard, and buttons which could be used to operate the phone. When the iPhone appeared in 2007, the Google development team felt it was necessary to redesign their Android operating system.
Their revamped operating system included touch screens and what resulted was the very first commercial Android phone, known as the T-Mobile G1 or the HTC Dream. It had a QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen and can be considered the predecessor of all Android phones. Cellphones come and go, but Android is still by far the most popular operating system used worldwide.
How is Android maintained?
The short answer to this question is that Android is maintained by a team of Google employees who specialize in operating system development. This team has all the responsibility for updating old features and adding new ones, as well as seeing that Android continues to follow open-source principles.
Behind the scenes, however, there’s a more complex answer that you should be aware of. Most manufacturers of cellphones have their own ‘skin’ which is a version of the Android operating system, and they develop software that works in tandem with Android. This is why the Android made available on Samsung phones and the software you see on a OnePlus phone look extremely different from each other but have similar functions. Each manufacturer is free to maintain its own Android skin.
Another question related to Android maintenance involves the distribution of the Android operating system. Your cellphone will contain a version of Android right out of the box, but that’s not usually the current version which is always in use. There are always updates that have to be applied to the operating system for performance and security reasons. Where do those updates come from?
Depending on the circumstances of your cellphone purchase, an update may need to go through multiple stages before reaching your cellphone. First of all, it has to be developed and made available by the Google Android team. Then it will need to be altered as necessary by the manufacturer of your cellphone, to make sure that its Android skin still works well with the included updates.
It’s also possible that an update might have to be reviewed and tweaked by your carrier, since they customize all phones they sell. Because it has to go through these various stages, an update generally doesn’t occur as often as it might for an iOS device. In the case of iPhones, Apple has total control over every stage of operation, and there are no skins.
Carriers have zero ability to intervene or to change how the iOS works and appears. Basically, Apple can distribute updates to every phone in the world quickly and easily with no intervention from carriers or any other parties. Android phones are not in the same category as we have seen, and this has a great deal to do with the fact that they use open source code.