Android is an open source operating system (or “OS”) developed by Google. Android was first unveiled on November 7th 2007 and has since become one of the most widespread and popular smartphone operating systems in the world.
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One of the advantages of Google Android is that it is available on a wide range of phones from a number of manufacturers. Android phones are typically ‘candybar’ handsets with a large touchscreen that is used as the main input method and a few physical command keys, though this is not universal. Android phones have also been produced with various other form factors, including models with full slide out keyboards and ‘clamshell’ models.
The most well-known and popular manufacturers of Android phones include Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG and Sony Ericsson. Each of these manufacturers produce a range of smartphones running the Android OS, usually with a single flagship model and a number of mid-range or budget models.
Because Android smartphones are essentially miniature computers, the components inside the phones such as the processor and memory can affect how well the phone performs. As a general rule of thumb, faster processors with more memory can usually run more complex applications and produce a smoother experience.
Downloadable apps are available for Android devices through Google Play. There are currently around 500,000 apps available, including a wide variety of both games and functional applications. Google Play features a mixture of paid and free apps, though it is notable for featuring a larger proportion of free apps than some comparable platforms. It is common for applications from Google Play to be available in both a free and paid ‘premium’ version, where the premium version offers additional features or the removal of in-app advertisements.
In addition to applications, the Google Play shop offers movie rentals and books. In some regions, music is available through Google Play, but this service has not yet reached the UK.
A wide range of Google branded applications are available for the Android platform, which are generally free to use. Notable examples are the Google Maps app, which offers free turn-by-turn navigation, and Google Docs, which offers cloud based document editing, among many others.
Since its initial introduction, Google has continued to regularly update the Android OS with bug fixes and additional features. Major updates are traditionally named after desserts in alphabetical order, with the most recent version of the Operating System being Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’. Prior to the release of Jelly Bean, the most recent version of Android was Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’.
The Ice Cream Sandwich update included a major overhaul of the Android user interface, a range of new features and improved speed and performance. It was designed to be suitable for both smartphones and tablets. Prior to this release, Android had split into two divergent branches: ´Gingerbread´ for smartphones and ´Honeycomb´ for tablets.
The latest release, Jelly Bean, brings numerous further enhancements to the Android OS. The most visible of these is Google´s ´Project Butter´, a collection of software tweaks and updates designed to greatly improve the smoothness and responsiveness of the Android user interface.
Updates are applied to specific phones at the discretion of manufacturers and mobile network operators, usually based on the hardware requirements and difficulty of updating the software. At the time of writing, approximately a third of Android phones in use are running the latest Android 2.3, around half are running Android 2.2 and the remainder are running older versions.