A brief history of Android

How Android rose to prominence in the smartphone market

In 2007, many pundits were expressing disappointment that Google was only releasing an open-source mobile operating system rather than a smartphone of its own design to compete with Apple's just-released first-generation iPhone. Less than three years later, Android has become one of the dominant players in the mobile operating system market, so much so that when Google finally did release a phone of its own, it was largely ignored in favor of other Android-based devices from Motorola and HTC. In this slideshow we'll take you back in time to trace the origins of the Android operating system and show how it rose rapidly to become one of the top operating systems in the mobile world.

Although rumors had been swirling for months that Google was preparing to launch a direct challenger to the Apple iPhone , the company instead simply released a Linux-based open-source mobile operating system known as "Android." Because Android was free to use for devices and free to develop applications for, Google hoped it would persuade carriers to be less strict about what applications and content they will allow to run over their wireless networks. The platform was embraced immediately by Sprint and T-Mobile, with Verizon and AT&T following soon after.

Just under a year after Android hit the market, HTC came out with the first-ever Android-based device, the T-Mobile G1 . The device didn't exactly make an iPhone-sized splash, but it gave the world an example of what Android was capable of doing on a real-life smartphone. And to emphasize Android's potential for application development, Google and T-Mobile invited along some third-party application developers during the G1's unveiling to give demonstrations of their Android applications. To encourage application development for Android, Google announced the year before that it would give $10 million worth in prizes to software development companies to develop innovative and useful applications for the platform.

Android didn't really take off as a mobile device platform until Verizon announced it would support the Motorola Droid as the first Android-based device on its network. With its clever "Droid Does" advertising campaign and its slideout keyboard, Verizon and Google had a hit on their hands as the Droid went on to sell more than 1 million units and become Android's flagship device. Indeed, the "Droid" brand has become so strong that Verizon is using it to brand several other Android-based devices on its network including the HTC Droid Incredible and the Motorola Droid X.

People clamoring for a "G-Phone" to call their own got their wish when Google dropped its Nexus One device onto the market. While the device initially garnered a good deal of hype, it soon fell by the wayside as it was eclipsed by more popular devices such as the Droid and the Evo 4G. And although it initially looked as though all four major U.S. wireless carriers would carry the device on their networks, both Sprint and Verizon soon balked and said they would offer alternative Android-based devices on their networks instead. The result was that sales for the Nexus One were a huge disappointment , as it only sold 135,000 units over its first 74 days. In contrast, the Motorola Droid and the original Apple iPhone both sold over a million units over their first 74 days on the market.

HTC's Evo 4G was the first mobile phone to run on Sprint's high-speed mobile WiMAX network. It also was a device that was better suited to showcase Android's potential than the Nexus One was, as it combined high-speed connectivity with a huge 4.3-inch 800 x 400 pixel display screen and a 1GHz processor.

Google's Android platform, like the Apple iPhone before it, has been a hit with consumers but has only recently gotten serious about adding enterprise features. The official launch of the Android 2.2 (a.k.a., "Froyo") platform marked Google's most significant step toward making Android enterprise-friendly yet, however. Among other things, Froyo gave IT administrators the ability to enforce password policies across Android devices and to remotely wipe any Android devices that become lost or compromised. Android 2.2 also supports Exchange Calendars and auto-discovery to make it easier for users to set up and sync Exchange accounts.

Research firm Gartner projects that by the end of 2010 sales of Android devices will exceed those based on the BlackBerry OS and the iPhone OS. This means that only Nokia's Symbian platform, which has also gone completely open source, stands in the way of Android becoming the world's most popular operating system. And Google isn't content to have Android thrive in the mobile phone market either, as the company is reportedly retooling the platform to run specifically for tablet computers as well.

What does the future hold for Android? Does Android continue its march toward world dominance? Or will another mobile OS step up to knock it down a peg? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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