In the world of mobile computing, the undisputed kings are the smartphones. They can are small and extremely portable. They can go with you wherever you may go.
But what truly distinguishes a smartphone from a regular mobile phone? It's not the hardware. Regular mobiles can easily have the same hardware. But for a phone to be smart it needs a smart operating system. One of the smartest mobile operating system is Google's Android.
It was originally a separate entity from Google, Android Inc. It was bought in 2005 for use in an upcoming Google phone. The Android operating system was originally going to power a device similar to Research In Motion's Blackberry. But as it was being developed, the iPhone debuted and changed the mobile world. The Android OS was tweaked to allow devices similar to the iPhone. It was finally released to the world in late 2007. It became the Apple phone's most formidable opponent.
This little mobile operating system was inspired by many open source projects. It took its kernel or the OS core from Linux. Linux is a free and open source kernel that is popular in servers. It can also be found in desktops and netbooks. Google adapted this kernel for the mobile phone form factor. They made it small and light in order to run on little devices.
From the Linux-based kernel, the rest of Android was inspired by Java. Java is one of the most popular programming languages to date. It is entrenched in servers and versions of it exist in desktops and regular phones. It has also become free and open source in certain important areas. Google adapted this too.
The Android OS has many benefits. First of all, it is free. Google shares it freely with manufacturers and hobbyists alike. Secondly, and complementing the first, it is open source. Anybody can download the source code and they can tweak and compile it to their heart's content. The use of the Java language is a benefit in itself too. Many people already know Java. They do not have to learn a new language, unlike for Apple's proprietary iOS. The Android OS also supports a wide variety of hardware and software.
One of the greatest benefits of Android is its software support. You can load any app on your Android-based phone. Google does not curate it at all. You can load apps from Google's own Marketplace, another Marketplace or from the developer themselves. At last count, it had 70,000 applications and it is growing fast.
Many manufacturers make Android phones. There are phone from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc. Android phones come in many shapes and forms. This incredible variety has its price. The software market is fragmented. Phones run different flavors of the OS and have different hardware profiles. Making an app for it can be harder than on other platforms.
It is also subject to a lawsuit from Oracle, which bought Sun, the creators of Java. The suit involves a complicated mess of copyrights and patents. This suit has just begun and the outcome seems to be long in coming unless the companies involved settle outside the court.
But the biggest black spot on this mobile OS is the fact that it is open only to a few, the manufacturers and especially, the mobile phone carriers. The carriers exert massive influence and lock down the phone in an effort to make subscribers pay for more functionality.
Despite this disadvantages, Android is one of the most used smartphone OS in the world. It has eclipsed Apple's iOS, Microsoft's Windows Phone and RIM's Blackberry OS as the fastest growing mobile OS. We can expect more and more consumers to use Android-based phones and their apps in the future.