Getting Started with: Android

We are pleased to introduce another new content series, ‘Getting Started with…’. Because sometimes, becoming involved with a new piece of technology is daunting, this content series aims to provide a simple and accessible overview of various operating systems, gadgets, and software.

As one of the two major competitors in the smartphone market, Android is present in billions of devices around the world. Today, I will attempt to answer many of the common questions surrounding Google’s OS such as how many versions of Android are out in the wild, what you can expect from an Android device, and more. If you have any more questions, comments, or concerns then feel free to drop a comment below!

What is Android?

To put it simply, Android is a mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets, just like Windows and macOS are operating systems for personal computers. Contrary to popular belief, Android was not originally developed by Google. In contrast, Google acquired Android, Inc. for $50 million in 2005 and placed its founder, Andy Rubin, as the lead developer. After several investments and a strong desire to enter the mobile market, Google unveiled Android to the world in 2007. Today, Android is by far the most used operating system in the world, commanding more than 80 percent of the mobile OS market share globally.

The current version of Android is 7.0 Nougat. Since version 1.5, Android’s code names have always been related to sweets and desserts, starting from Cupcake. Though most modern devices today are running on Android 5.0 Lollipop, 6.0 Marshmallow, or 7.0 Nougat, there are plenty of lower-end devices on developing countries which are still running older versions of the OS.

Why is Android different in every device?

One of the main differences between Android and its main competitor, iOS, is that the former is operated on an open-source license. That entails many different elements but what interests us here is the fact that OEMs like Samsung, HTC, Sony, Xiaomi, and others are free to dress up Android in many different ways. Samsung has TouchWiz, Sony has the Xperia UI, Xiaomi has MIUI, and HTC has the Sense UI. Each of those versions has something different. Some are bloated with third-party apps, others are simply given a customized look with not much added on top. All of them are based on ‘stock Android’, which is the default version as envisioned by Google.

Though manufacturers do not have to pay a licensing fee to Google, they do have to meet certain standards in order to use Google Mobile Services such as the Play Store and other Google apps. In order to do that, the OEMs have to pay third-party testing facilities in order to get licenses. However, these licenses are the only major cost associated with Android and OEMs are free to refuse GMS. Of course, most major companies do include Google’s own apps as the marketplace alone is worth it.

Why should you choose an Android device?

The most important reason why one might consider an Android device is personalization. Android is an extremely flexible operating system which can be customized extensively, provided that the user has enough time and patience. Because of the fact that Android is not tied up to any ecosystem, it can be used as virtually anything. Apps can be downloaded from both the official store and outside of it, as long as you only use carefully curated sites to avoid malware. If you have thought of any app that you would like to use, there is a pretty good chance that it exists on Android in one form or another.

Aside from services, the look of an Android device can also be customized in its entirety. Custom themes, icon packs, and launchers can all be used to turn any Android device into a haven of personalization. Finally, if you are feeling brave, you can flash an entirely different ROM to your Android device of choice. What that basically means is that you can have a Samsung device with the interface of a Google Nexus, and vice versa. On top of that, there’s a very active community of developers who release their own custom ROMs which are often full of extra features, customized apps, and more.

Rooting Android is another path that many users choose to take. When you “root” a device, you basically gain full, unrestricted access to it. As such, you are able to make changes that would not have been possible in a stock device. You can uninstall default apps, install modules that fundamentally change the way your device works, and more. Finally, rooting is often one of the only ways to get updates for your device. For those familiar with iOS devices, rooting is the equivalent of jailbreaking an iPhone though it is a much easier process.

What are some of Android’s drawbacks?

Android’s world is a very fragmented one, a fact which many consider to be its biggest disadvantage. Because manufacturers are more or less free to do whatever they want with Android, user experience often suffers a result. The more expensive Android devices usually work well right out of the box. However, in many cases users are expected to put in some work in order to make their phones or tablets work perfectly. This also means that, unlike iOS, updates on Android are very problematic. The latest devices, especially the ones that come directly from Google and its close partners, receive new Android updates quite quickly. Others, however, are often lost in limbo.

Is it hard to use Android?

The thing that most people fear when it comes to Android devices is difficulty of use. Android may have been a little rough on the edges during its early stages but that is no longer true. Most modern Android devices have been designed with the casual user in mind and you certainly don’t need to delve into the OS’s more advanced operations if you don’t want to. The great thing about it is that it can be as complex or simple as you want it to be. Even if you are coming from iOS, you will probably become familiar with the operations of any Android device within an hour of using it.

Closing remarks

Though Android had some pretty tough times in the past, it has been a fantastic operating system for many years now. As long as you stick to reputable manufacturers and do some research before buying a device, Android will provide you with a world of options that will make your phone work for you. The OS could certainly be more polished and there are many frustrating moments in the life of an Android user but as long as you use common sense and keep your head straight, the OS can be very rewarding.

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