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Every year, dozens of manufacturers sell millions of Android devices to consumers across the world. They do this while managing to maintain a remarkable consistency of experience. The stability of this ecosystem is largely due to Google’s smart management, underpinned by a commitment to open source principles. But much has changed since Android was initially conceived over a decade ago, and its journey to dominance has been full of twists, turns, and many amusing inside stories. Here are a few things you may not know about the world’s most popular mobile operating system.
1. Android, Inc. initially intended to build software for cameras.
Android, Inc. was founded in 2003 by Andy Rubin and several other partners as a startup that intended to make software for cameras. However, at the time, the company realized that the camera market wasn’t large enough to justify their investment, and that cameras were likely to be absorbed into the smartphone market – so they changed their goal and began developing a mobile operating system. Today, the best cameras on today’s Android smartphones are more than twice as powerful as the best standalone digital cameras when Android originally launched.
2. Android versions are named after sweets, but haven’t always been.
In 2009, Android Cupcake became the first public version of the software to carry a codename, and inaugurated a sweets-themed naming scheme for Android releases. Before the original version of the operating system was released, a few of the early prototypes and pre-release versions had been named after famous robots instead, like Astro-boy and Bender. But the first two official releases of Android didn’t carry a codename at all, and it wasn’t until the third official release that the team realized that a branded naming scheme was in order. Another pre-release version of the software had gone by the name “Petit Four,” a french dessert, so Google decided that they’d stick with sugar, and name the third major Android release with a name starting with the letter C – Cupcake.
3. The famous Android statues have had several run-ins with the law.
Every time a new version of the Android software is released, a new statue is built outside the Android headquarters in Mountain View. While the statues haven’t themselves committed any crimes (that we know of), there have been multiple instances in which they’ve been the victim of unfortunate vandalism. There was a green, toy puppy statue designed by famous furniture designer Erro Aarnio, which was stolen in 2009 and has not been replaced. In the summer of 2012, the transparent “Jelly Bean” robot couldn’t handle the heat of the Mountain View summer and quite literally lost its head. Someone took advantage of the situation and stole one of the (fake) jelly beans that were housed inside the robot.
4. Google struck a deal with Nestle to use the name “Kit Kat.”
You may know that version 4.4 of the Android operating system was nicknamed Kit Kat. What you may not know is that Google struck a deal with Nestlé for the rights to use the name in its alphabetical naming scheme. The name “Key Lime Pie” was tentatively being used leading up to the launch, until a group of engineers suggested that one of their team’s favorite candies should be in the spotlight. The Nestlé deal didn’t involve financial compensation, but there were some sizable advertising partnerships that ran in tandem with the launch. Kit-Kat bars around the world carried the recognizable green Android logo, and the chance for consumers to win a Nexus tablet.
5. “Material Design” is Google’s first comprehensive design standard.
In 2014, Google released a set of standards for visual, interaction, and motion design – with a focus on providing a language for describing highly user-focused mobile experiences. The hallmark of these design standards is a paper-like interface that highlights the various layers of content – and the interaction between them – through subtle but dynamic shadows, lighting, and depth. This may not seem like a big deal, but for Google, rolling out a cross-product design strategy was groundbreaking. Google’s core business emerged out of the early web, where most queries were text based and computer interaction was simple. Material Design, on the other hand, provides a language and strategy for designing to the more complex touch and sensory interactions that users have come to expect from mobile devices.
6. Google created the Open Handset Alliance to set Android standards.
The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) is a consortium of 84 different companies building devices for Android. While Android is open-source and anyone can legally modify and release alternate versions of the operating system, members of the OHA have contractually agreed with Google to only build devices for versions of Android that pass certain standards that Google defines. The organization has helped to maintain a level of uniformity among Android handset makers while helping Google include their partners in its ongoing evolution.
7. Java is the language used by Android developers.
Even before being chosen as the language for Android development, Java was originally designed to power software that needed to work on many different platforms. It was created in 1991 by a group of developers who wanted to build interactive TVs – an idea that was a bit ahead of its time. Eventually, Java would be released publicly by Sun Microsystems in 1995, and many later versions of Java’s development tools would include support for mobile devices, and even appliances. By the time Android rolled around a decade later, there wasn’t a better choice for a robust, well-tested language that could run on the hundreds of different kinds of devices that would be built by Android device manufacturers.
8. Initially, Android’s success was far from certain.
At the time Android was released, some journalists and critics were doubtful of Android’s chances of success. Apple had released the iPhone the year before to much acclaim, and other players like Nokia, Microsoft, and Blackberry still owned large sections of the market for mobile phones. But Android swiftly attracted device manufacturers to its team and many competing platforms eventually acknowledged defeat. Even Blackberry, who has continued to market its Blackberry OS for years, announced in October 2015 that it has taken the plunge and would be releasing a high-end Android phone with a keyboard.
9. The original Android robot was inspired by restroom signs.
The green Android logo was designed by Irina Blok, who gained inspiration from robot-themed movies and toys, as well as the simple, flat design of standard gender designation signs on restroom doors. She was one of two designers working on the logo, and her design was selected out of a number of concepts. After finalizing the design, Google also took the bold step of open-sourcing the artwork, mirroring the free and open philosophy of the Android operating system as a whole. This has resulted in an abundance of spin-off logos for various causes and promotions.
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