SF Technotes

The 10-Year-Old in Your Phone

By Michael Castelluccio
September 27, 2018
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The world’s most popular mobile operating system just turned 10 on September 23, 2018. The engine for more than one billion smartphones and tablets is now in its ninth version and is hardly standing still as versions for smartwatches and cars have joined the Google Android lineup. The latest smartphone engine is called Android 9 Pie.

CAKES AND CONFECTIONS

 

Before we look at some of the numbers that define the Android platform, let’s say a few words about the unconventional, and some think rather frivolous, naming conventions for the software with which we trust our very expensive pocket hardware and countless other devices.

 

Beginning with the third version of the Android OS, v 1.1, the subsequent names are all desserts. 1.1 is Cupcake, then Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, and so on. The names follow in alphabetical order, and with the last names, Nougat, Oreo, and Pie, the next up will be a treat beginning with the letter q or later. Google has been asked over the years, Why cakes and candies?

 

And the two consistent replies are—it’s just something quirky the original team came up with that has stuck, or the OS is designed “to sweeten our lives a little.” Whatever the reason, there’s a tableau of lawn statues of candy bars, an ice cream sandwich, jellybeans, and all the other Androids with the little green robot present throughout on the front lawn of the corporate campus of one of the most powerful corporations on the planet.

 

 

The little green Android robot also has a whimsical etymology. One accounting claims his original name was Bugdroid.

 

And one other footnote for the Gingerbread House of Android concerns the first two versions of the OS. These were either simply called Alpha and Beta, or they were addressed as Astro (Jetson’s Dog?) and Bender (Futurama’s Bending Unit 22 robot?)—depends on who you ask. Either story accounts for the missing first two letters of the alphabet, but there’s another version that claims the second version (1.1) was unofficially called Petit Four.

 

AFTER A SLOW BEGINNING

 

The competition for the nascent Android system in 2008 was headed by a number of international giants. In 2000, the Finnish smartphone and tablet producer, Nokia, had revenues exceeding $20 billion with a market share of 30% in the mobile phone sector. By 2000, Motorola had been overtaken by Nokia, yet it still employed 150,000 worldwide and its biggest success, the Motorola RAZR smartphone, was still five years in its future. The Swedish multinational Ericsson was a leading force in networks and mobile phones, actually sharing top place with Nokia and Motorola in 1997.

 

Add the entrenched positions held by BlackBerry beginning in 1999 and the new Apple iPhone, released just one year before in 2007, and the hill to climb for Android looked like Everest, invisible above the clouds.

 

In April 2009, the Android version called Cupcake didn’t seem to be much of a threat. But then the combination of rapid development, its Linux-based open-source architecture, and the adoption eventually by some of the larger smartphone manufacturers catapulted this very flexible operating system skyward.

 

In the year that Android turned nine (May 2017), according to statista.com, the OS had “more than two billion monthly users, the largest installed base of any operating system, and as of June 2018, the Google Play store featured more than 3.3 million apps.”

 

If you had been making pencil marks on the doorframe, documenting the growth of Google’s little green Android in those first 10 years, you could extrapolate a graph like the Wikipedia visual for worldwide smartphone sales sorted by operating systems:

 

Click to enlarge.

Wikipedia Commons

 

That’s quite a growth spurt for an enterprise that early on was viewed as just a search company. And as more of those Android statues were added on Google’s front lawn, another unanticipated development began to attract attention. The operating systems for desktops and laptops were being bypassed by a mobile world powered primarily by Android.

 

Today, the most used forms of computers are smartphones and tablets. In recent numbers reported on statcounter.com (January 2018) here is how the PC is being replaced as the primary computer for most of us:

 

  • Smartphones now have 52.61% of the total users;
  • Desktops/laptops have a 43.15% share;
  • Tablets have 4.13% of the pie.

ANDROID EVERYWHERE

 

The flexibility of Android’s Linux core, along with its open-source license has encouraged a lot of experimentation among those looking to tailor the operating system for their own products, from gaming consoles to small home appliances.

 

Android 9 Pie, Android Wear, and Android Auto

 

Three of the most heavily marketed variations by Google include Android Pie on a number of smartphones, a version for smartwatches, and the car information/entertainment that you’ll find on more than 40 models, from Acura to Volvo. All are branches in the expanding Android universe.

 

You might guess there were quite a few cupcakes decorated with lit candles passed around at Google headquarters this week.

 



Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 23 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 20th year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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