Android for Dummies
Android. Over the last couple of years, this word has become a household name. It is printed in the newspapers, comes on TV, jumps out from billboards and screams at you from shop windows. The word ‘Android’ rolls off our tongues quite casually when the talk turns to smartphones and tablet computers. Some of us can talk nineteen to the dozen and proffer advice to our comrades about purchasing the best Android mobile phone for a hot deal in the market. But how many of us can talk ABOUT Android for a whole minute? That, might be a question worth thinking about.
Before we delve into what Android means, there are a couple of concepts that we would do well to understand. Android, as it is widely known, is an Open Source software. What does Open Source mean? Let us take up an analogy to go about this. Say you go to a restaurant and order a burger. If the waiter gives you a free sample along with the recipe for the burger, you could make it on your own and add your modifications to it. Open Source software like Android works along these lines. The mobile Operating System (OS) Android is a free software in itself and the source code (something like the main program) is made readily available to the public
While defining Open Source, the term Mobile OS has cropped up. Most of us are familiar with what an Operating System is. Windows from Microsoft, is an operating system for computers and laptops. An operating system is essentially a master program which is responsible for the working of your PC on the whole. A similar arrangement is required to incorporate the ‘smart’ in a smartphone. A mobile OS is needed to connect to the Internet, download applications, run them and respond intelligently to user inputs.
Now, we can go into understanding what Android is. It is an Open Source mobile OS used in smartphones by various hardware manufacturers. Android was originally the name of a start-up firm by name Android Inc. formed in 2003, a company that aimed to make software for mobile phones. Search maven Google acquired this company in 2005 and has since been controlling the versions and updates of Android. In 2007, the Open Handset Alliance was formed which brought into partnership some mobile software, hardware and carrier companies. Android was the first ever product of this consortium. The first ever smartphone running Android was the HTC Dream released in October 2008.
Android has received many updates, both major and minor since its inception. To the observant eye, it would be apparent that the versions are named after desserts or sugary confectionary and the starting letters are in an alphabetical progression (Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and the latest – Jelly Bean). Since Google is the proprietor of the Android software, it has come out with a flagship Nexus range of devices (phones and tablets) that run the unaltered version (no changes to the source code) of Android.
Because of it’s versatility and free lincense, Android has risen rapidly as the OS of choice for mobile manufacturers. To distinguish themselves from their competitors, hardware manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, LG, Micromax, Karbonn etc., apply their own customization to the software released by Google and come up with different User Interfaces (UIs). The customization doesn’t stop there. The end user, i.e., the customer can change the entire look of the phone to his taste with the help of custom made themes that come in the form of applications or ‘apps’.
App is another buzzword which may baffle the less informed ones among us. These are applications, like the text editor, Internet Explorer, music player, photo viewer etc., that run on your laptop/PC. These facilities can be made available in a smartphone by downloading the respective applications or ‘apps’. These applications are again programs that have been written exclusive for the Android platform. Google has an online shop where you can pick out applications that interest you for free or for a small fee. Called the Play Store, the app store spoils you to no end as there is an app for anything and everything. Play Store comes pre-installed in every Android phone so that you can delve in as soon as you get a data connection. Latest iterations of Android have multitasking capabilities built into them to juggle efficiently between tasks that the user delegates to his phone. Apps have a way of staying idle in the background without consuming battery power and can be called upon when required.
One of the major issues reported and bemoaned by Android patrons is the lack of timely updates for their devices. The problem is a complicated one because Android is an OS that is used by a wide array of hardware manufacturers. These hardware manufacturers in turn have not one but at least ten different devices for which they have to roll out the updates. Each device has different specifications and as a result, unique modifications have to be applied to the Android version to make a perfect fit. Once these levels have passed, there is the time taken by carriers to see how these updates can be sent out to mobile phone owners via their channels. By the ti me all these hurdles are crossed and the update whirs to life in the user’s hands, the novelty of the software is long lost. However, constant efforts are underway to minimize this time lag between the official announcement and actual receipt of the software updates.
Official Android updates are typically announced once in every six to nine months. In spite of the delay it takes for these effects to trickle down to the consumer level, there are many takers for this platform owing to its user-friendliness, amenability to customization and open nature. Today, Android is monopolizing over the smartphone territory with a 75% market share. No other operating system has seen such widespread and consistent success. Android’s growth chart seems to be going all the way up and the projected figures replicate this trend for a couple more years to come. With manufacturers working round the clock to churn out new devices to capitalize upon this amazing piece of software, there are more sugary treats to look forward to in the near future.
Nikhila is a gadget lover and passionate writer. She likes to keep up with social media and Internet culture in particular while staying updated about all latest gizmos. Nikhila is a mechanical engineer-turning-into-technical-writer. Bibliophile, Grammar Nazi, dog lover, foodie, casual artist.
29 January, 2013