Once upon a time, Android — Google’s open-source mobile operating system — was new. Google introduced the platform as an open resource, available for use by any device manufacturer, and in time a variety of Android phone makers adopted the operating system and made their own decisions about software and hardware, building their own versions of the Android experience and laying the groundwork for the development of the massive variety of Android phones on the market today.
In those early stages, a problem called “fragmentation,” the spread of divergent versions of the Android operating system, was born. As Google tells it, the growth of the operating system sounds a little like a fairy tale:
“Android is the operating system that powers over 1 billion smartphones and tablets. Since these devices make our lives so sweet, each Android version is named after a dessert: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean.”
But let’s start at the beginning.
In November 2007, five months after the launch of the original iPhone, Sergey Brin and Steve Horowitz unveiled Android as “a new open-source operating system and software platform” for mobile phones. (There they are, in the video above.) The launch came two years after Google acquired Android. A lot has changed since then, and Android is no exception, with early versions of the operating system and the hardware it was demoed on virtually unrecognizable for users of contemporary versions of Android.
If you’re looking for a complete history of the iterations that Android has gone through since then, we recommend a 40,000 word article on the topic by Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo. Amadeo charted the operating system’s progress from Android 0.5 to Android 4.4.
Amadeo’s piece, impressive and exhaustive in both scope and detail, is an illustration of the improvements added in each new Android release and the incremental progress that’s made Android the operating system it is today. But we digress: from its beginning, Google has slowly shaped Android to improve and change via a continual march of updates and version releases. But its updates actually aren’t that slow compared to the development cycles of other major operating systems.