Android Inc. was founded in Palo Alto, California, in October 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White. Rubin described the Android project as “tremendous potential in developing smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. The early intentions of the company were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras, and this was the basis of its pitch to investors in April 2004. The company then decided that the market for cameras was not large enough for its goals, and by five months later it had diverted its efforts and was pitching Android as a handset operating system that would rival Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
Rubin had difficulty attracting investors early on, and Android was facing eviction from its office space. Steve Perlman, a close friend of Rubin, brought him $10,000 in cash in an envelope and shortly thereafter wired an undisclosed amount as seed funding. Perlman refused a stake in the company, and has stated: “I did it because I believed in the thing, and I wanted to help Andy.”
In July 2005, Google acquired Android Inc. for at least $50 million. Its key employees, including Rubin, Miner, and White, joined Google as part of the acquisition. Not much was known about the secretive Android at the time, with the company having provided few details other than that it was making software for mobile phones. At Google, the team led by Rubin developed a mobile device platform powered by the Linux kernel. Google marketed the platform to handset makers and carriers on the promise of providing a flexible, upgradeable system. Google had “lined up a series of hardware components and software partners and signaled to carriers that it was open to various degrees of cooperation”.
Speculation about Google’s intention to enter the mobile communications market continued to build through December 2006. An early prototype had a close resemblance to a BlackBerry phone, with no touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard, but the arrival of 2007’s Apple iPhone meant that Android “had to go back to the drawing board”. Google later changed its Android specification documents to state that “Touchscreens will be supported”, although “the Product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption, therefore a touchscreen cannot completely replace physical buttons”. By 2008, both Nokia and BlackBerry announced touch-based smartphones to rival the iPhone 3G, and Android’s focus eventually switched to just touchscreens. The first commercially available smartphone running Android was the HTC Dream, also known as T-Mobile G1, announced on September 23, 2008.
Since 2008, Android has seen numerous updates that have incrementally improved the operating system, adding new features and fixing bugs in previous releases. Each major release is named in alphabetical order after a dessert or sugary treat, with the first few Android versions being called “Cupcake”, “Donut”, “Eclair”, and “Froyo”, in that order. During its announcement of Android KitKat in 2013, Google explained that “Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert”, although a Google spokesperson told CNN in an interview that “It’s kind of like an internal team thing, and we prefer to be a little bit — how should I say — a bit inscrutable in the matter, I’ll say”.
In 2010, Google launched its Nexus series of devices, a lineup in which Google partnered with different device manufacturers to produce new devices and introduce new Android versions. The series was described as having “played a pivotal role in Android’s history by introducing new software iterations and hardware standards across the board”, and became known for its “bloat-free” software with “timely … updates”. At its developer conference in May 2013, Google announced a special version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, where, instead of using Samsung’s own Android customization, the phone ran “stock Android” and was promised to receive new system updates fast. The device would become the start of the Google Play edition program and was followed by other devices, including the HTC One Google Play edition, and Moto G Google Play edition. In 2015, Ars Technica wrote that “Earlier this week, the last of the Google Play edition Android phones in Google’s online storefront were listed as “no longer available for sale” and that “Now they’re all gone, and it looks a whole lot like the program has wrapped up”.
Google introduced the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones in October 2016, marketed as being the first phones made by Google, and exclusively featured certain software features, such as the Google Assistant, before a wider rollout. The Pixel phones replaced the Nexus series, with a new generation of Pixel phones launched in October 2017.
In May 2019, the operating system became entangled in the trade war between China and the United States involving Huawei which like many other tech firms have become dependent on access to the Android platform. In the summer of 2019, Huawei announced it would create an alternative operating system to Android, known as Harmony OS, and have filed for intellectual property rights across major global markets. Huawei does not currently have any plans to replace Android in the near future, as Harmony OS is designed for the internet of things devices, rather than for smartphones.
On August 22, 2019, it was announced that Android “Q” would officially be branded as Android 10, ending the historic practice of naming major versions after desserts. Google stated that these names were not “inclusive” to international users (due either to the aforementioned foods not being internationally known, or being difficult to pronounce in some languages).On the same day, Android Police reported that Google had commissioned a statue of a giant number “10” to be installed in the lobby of the developers’ new office. Android 10 was released on September 3, 2019, to Google Pixel phones first.