Happy birthday Android: what Google’s mobile OS has accomplished in four years

An Android smartphone. REUTERS/Truth LeemThis Sunday, the Android mobile operating system turns four. Even though it seems like the Apple vs. Android mobile wars have been going on forever, we had no idea what would be in store for us back in 2007.

But Android's history actually started much earlier than that. Back in October 2003, a company called Android was started by Rich Miner, Andy Rubin, Nick Sears and Chris White. The four brought with them extensive experience from the world of technology, TechSpot says. There were rumours at the time that the company was working on its own smartphone operating system and in 2005, the truth came out when Google purchased the 22-month-old startup for an estimated $50 million.

It took a couple more years for the first Android device to hit the marketplace, though. In 2008, Android launched its very first smartphone and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Let's compare Android's humble first launch to its position at the end of last year, when it was dominating half of the world market.

Then:

On Sept. 23, 2008, Android 1.0 was launched, followed in October by the very first Android smartphone: the HTC Dream. It was also known as the T-Mobile G1 when the U.S. carrier adopted it and launched it as "the world's first Android phone" on its service.

That very first Android device, running Android 1.0 (which, according to Android Police, didn't actually have the codename "Astro" despite the Wikipedia claims, and was in fact nameless), included only a small smattering of what we've come to expect of Android devices today: it had access to Google Maps, WiFi, GPS, and connected users to the Android Market. But its camera capabilities were a shadow of what Android phones are capable of today. There was also no Microsoft Exchange Server, firmly cutting them out of the business market.

And what a different world it was four years ago: a look at the worldwide smartphone market share division of 2008 paints a clear picture. According to researchers at Gartner, here's how the smartphone market broke down by mobile operating system:

Company 2008 Market Share (%)
Symbian (on Nokia devices) 52.4
Research in Motion 16.6
Microsoft Windows Mobile 11.8
Mac OS X 8.2
Linux 8.1
Palm OS 1.8
Other OSs 1.1

After patiently waiting, Canada finally joined the Android movement with Rogers offering the HTC Dream and the HTC Magic on June 2, 2009. The launch of Android phones in Canada wasn't smooth, as Rogers was forced to halt the sales of the HTC Dream due to a software glitch that affected 911 calls. For some, this was a chance to make the leap from the HTC Dream to the new HTC Magic.

2009 was also the year of the first Android OS update. Android 1.5 was better known as Cupcake, the first of the alphabetically delicious names of mobile operating system releases. Motorola also began selling Android devices, branching out from HTC.

Android started really branching out in 2010, with the release of the first Google-branded phone, the Nexus One, and the first Android tablets. Neither lived up to the high expectations put on the mobile and tablet markets by the increasingly popular iPhone and the newly released iPad. But the Nexus One was the first device to get the new Android OS update, 2.2 Froyo, which was a huge update to the previous interface of the earlier Android iterations.

Even more changes came with Android's later OS versions: Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and now Jellybean have all brought with them improvements that put Android on par with — and in some ways, surpassing — mobile operating systems such as Apple's iOS. And the proof of the impact those changes have had are in the exponential growth of users who have adopted Android devices.

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Now:

Things have certainly changed quite a bit since the days of Cupcake and Donut. Now, Android has a dominant hold on the worldwide smartphone market, even if makers of the phones that operate on Android seem to be embroiled in patent wars with other smartphone makers.

Gartner released its annual end-of-year data of global smartphone OS market share for the end of 2011. Take a look at how much the breakdown has changed since 2008:

Company 2011 Market Share (%)
Android 50.9
iOS 23.8
Symbian 11.7
Research in Motion 8.8
Bada 2.1
Microsoft 1.9
Other OSs 0.8

This tells us two big things:

One: Android has come a long, long way in just four short years, and radically changed the smartphone market as we know it today.

And two: while it might seem like you're on top of the smartphone world, there's no telling where you'll be four years from now.

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