The long way to Android 1.0 – First Android phone is ten years old

They came in on roller skates. The contrast with competitors such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Apple could not have been greater. Where many competitors gave slick and well-prepared presentations, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin pushed on roller skates across the stage during the presentation in New York of the T-Mobile G1 on September 23, 2008. The G1, which would otherwise be called HTC Dream , was the very first Android phone to come out.

That striking entrance was not a preconceived plan and the top people from T-Mobile and HTC – the three companies presented the G1 together – will have looked strangely at the nose of the footwear of both Google founders. In any case, it was a presentation that ran smoothly in one respect. The reason for the strange presentation was simple: Page and Brin had to be elsewhere in New York earlier in the day and thought they would get through the busy traffic faster with roller skates than with a car.

The incident could symbolize the rise of Android in the telephone market. Google has, more or less by chance, successfully entered the telephone market and has managed to achieve what Nokia, Palm and Microsoft have failed to do: build an operating system that could connect almost all telephone makers, providers and app developers.

Before Page and Brin could stand on that New York stage, a lot of water had to flow through the Hudson River. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Android 1.0 and the first phone with the operating system, we thought it would be a good idea to look back on the road to that first release, in a small history of Android before it became known.

The origin: Danger

Some products are ahead of their time. From 2002 onwards there was a smartphone with not only e-mail and an agenda, but also a download store for apps, cloud backup of photos and personal data and encryption. That smartphone was the Hiptop – so called because it was intended as a “small laptop” that you could wear in a holster on your hip – from the American company Danger.

You can clearly see the Hiptop as an ancestor of the T-Mobile G1. He also has a sliding keyboard – many companies and consumers at the time felt that a physical qwerty keyboard was a prerequisite for a smartphone – and an operating system that required as little interaction as possible between a PC and a telephone. Many devices from back then had to be connected to a desktop with a cable; iPhones even required activation via desktop software iTunes up to 2011. However, the Hiptop was aimed at transferring data via wireless connections. Updates were also over-the-air. That sounds normal now, but it was special at the time.

Fun fact: Danger has also had a device under development with the name G1. That was a device that shared many components with the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. That is why Danger contacted Nintendo to turn it into a full gaming smartphone through a collaboration. In the end that didn’t work, wrote former employee Chris DeSalvo on Medium in 2014.

Microsoft bought Danger in 2008 and turned the Hiptop operating system around, so that two years later it could start selling the Kin phones itself with the expertise and contacts of Danger staff. That led to a major failure.

Yet there are many lines that run from Danger to Android. The most important thing of course is that they have the same founder: Andy Rubin. Rubin not only brought many of the ideas behind the Hiptop to Android, but also many important employees and contacts. After all: the Hiptop became known when the American branch of T-Mobile started selling it as Sidekick. And which provider was the first to support Android? Indeed, the American branch of T-Mobile.

The start of Android

Ironically, the name Android comes from Apple. That is, one of the founders of Android, Andy Rubin, worked at Apple from 1989 to 1992 and at that time he was nicknamed Android because of his preference for robots and robots. He got into trouble when he joked with colleagues: he had reprogrammed the internal telephone system and then called up direct colleagues with offers to buy shares with the number of then CEO John Sculley. He was allowed to stay and went along with spin-off General Magic, a company that tried to build a proto-smartphone in the 1990s, wrote The New York Timesin an interview with Rubin just before the announcement of Android. A documentary has been made about General Magic, which is currently being shown at festivals in the United States in particular.

Rubin was not the only founder of Android in 2004: there were three others involved in the start of the world’s largest operating system. The first idea behind Android was no operating system for smartphones at all; Rubin and his co-founders wanted to build an operating system for digital cameras. That had to recognize faces in photos and exchange photos wirelessly with a PC, thanks to software that users could put on the PC.

After discussions with potential investors and other companies, it soon became apparent that the company would not be viable. The market for digital cameras was then much smaller than the mobile market and it would remain that way; the market simply would not be large enough to attract investors. After five months, the founders made a turnaround: they would make a phone operating system.

That was not immediately a success. In fact, Android almost went under in 2004 and was no longer able to pay employees, when a friendly investor gave Rubin an envelope with ten thousand dollars in notes of one hundred, and transferred much more money the next day. That envelope saved Android from an early fall.

Google approached Android in 2005. That was no coincidence: Larry Page and Sergey Brin had both had a Hiptop and had also met Rubin when he gave a presentation on the development of the device at Stanford University in Silicon Valley.

The meeting in 2005 first seemed to be about a collaboration, but later it turned out that Google had a different plan: it wanted to take over Android. The founders thought about it for a moment and then agreed. Both companies announced the news in August . We then thought to have an idea what the search giant wanted with Android. “What Google wants with Android knowledge and employees is easy to guess: Google wants to develop web applications for mobile devices and Android has the knowledge for that.”

Google had seen a gap in the market and wanted to jump into it. The mobile phone market then looked very different. Telephone manufacturers mainly had telecom providers as customers and those customers determined the specs and features of the telephones. Developers who wanted to create and distribute apps had a hard time: there were many different operating systems such as Symbian, PalmOS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS and a number of mobile Linux variants. Even operating system versions were not always compatible.

Google wanted to solve that by building Android around a virtual machine that can execute Java code. Because apps could run in that virtual machine, Dalvik, developers did not have to adjust their apps per device.

Android 1.0 was built on the Linux 2.6.24 kernel, but does not use any windowing system or other Linux tools. On top of the kernel is the hardware abstraction layer for communication with audio, wifi and the modem. On top of that you can find the native libraries and the runtime. Finally, the Android developers also built the application framework and of course the apps themselves.

Manufacturers and providers were allowed to build their own interface on Android and add their own apps, but they don’t interfere deeply with the kernel or the runtime. We still see the consequences of that decision. Some devices have a Google-designed interface, but many models from Samsung, Huawei, HTC, LG, Sony, Oppo and many more manufacturers have their own skin over Android.

The road to Android 1.0

One of the ways Google wanted to market Android was to make it free for manufacturers to use. That was exceptional at the time, because every operating system required a license from the maker of the software. Before the takeover, the company wanted to make money from backend services for Android, but the takeover changed that: Android could serve as a way to get Google apps, such as the search engine, on as many phones as possible and make money with advertising revenue.

Not only that, in addition, Google providers promised 30 percent of the revenue from the Android Market, the predecessor of the Play Store. It seemed an irresistible deal for providers, but they were not really in line: they feared that Google would get too much power in the mobile market and they were not waiting for that.

Initially, manufacturers also did not stand in line. HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung were among the founders of the Open Handset Alliance, the organization behind Android, but it was not the only iron in the fire for any of those companies. HTC had a good collaboration with Microsoft for Windows Mobile, Samsung and Motorola both used almost every operating system they could use – and there were more than a handful at the time. For example, Motorola used the UIQ version of Symbian, various Linux variants for phones, Windows Mobile and its own operating system for cheap phones.

The expectations for Android were therefore not high. A Gartner analyst typed prior to the announcement to build a mobile operating system as “the stupidest thing Google can do.”

The announcement took place on November 5, 2007. Google spoke that the first devices with Android would be released in the second half of 2008. That plural was intentional: Google really aimed for the release of multiple devices around the same time. However, that went slightly differently. Devices that should have arrived at the American Sprint and the Chinese China Mobile did not arrive, it turned out in June 2008 . Procrastination and disappointment; not really elements that you would expect in the run-up to the release of the upcoming market leader.

The interface has also undergone major changes. At the beginning of 2008 the small team of developers working on Android, with version 0.5, was also called Milestone 3. Ars Technica, who tried the software years later , concluded that the home screen could not accommodate widgets and that the interface still looked somewhat old-fashioned. The notification bar wasn’t there yet either. Various elements of the later operating system were already there, such as a menu button for options and multitasking.

A few months later M5 was released, still under version number 0.5. That already looked more like Android as we got to know it later, including notification bar and menu options, much like they also appeared in Android 1.0.

At that point, the Android development team had engaged designers to shape the Android 1.0 interface. That was the Swedish design company The Astonishing Tribe. That company had immortalized its hometown in the analog clock widget that would be standard on every G1: Malmö.

The Astonishing Tribe also devised a way to display all apps for Android 1.0: at the bottom of the screen there was a tab and by pulling it up, a ‘folder’ came over the screen with all the apps in alphabetical order. Later the tab changed into a button and now the swipe is back, although the tab is no longer needed: there is now a dock with shortcuts in for example Android 9.0 Pie.

Many of the elements of 1.0 were already in 0.9, which received the beta label. Developers were able to try it out from August 2008, one month before the G1 announcement. It included support for landscape, which was needed for the G1 – it didn’t have a virtual keyboard when it was released. Users only had to enter text with the physical keyboard under the landscape screen.

With 1.0 in October 2008, in addition to Google apps such as Gmail and Calendar, the most important app from Android entered the operating system: the Android Market. That happened at a time when there was a hype about Apple’s App Store for iPhones. The Market is now known as the Google Play Store and includes apps and games as well as films and books.

Besides the then modern interface with touch screens, the way developers could create and distribute apps is the main reason why Android has become successful. Especially the then market leader Symbian had left it ugly on that point. Creating an app for Symbian required long study, knowledge of the Symbian variant of C ++.

Debugging was also a drama and the documentation of apis was so bad that a developer had made an app for developers to check which apis supported a device or not. Nokia and Symbian did not prioritize third-party apps because they believed it could never be an important selling point for phones; the built-in functions and apps of a smartphone would remain much more important, they thought. With Windows Mobile, that situation was better, but not optimal.

Android, on the other hand, offered a Java environment, a development language that many developers already knew. In addition, there was a plug-in for Eclipse and all development tools were much better developed. In addition, Google guaranteed through compatibility testing that all apps could run on all devices.

Naturally, those benefits also applied to telephone makers and providers. They also wanted to make their own apps and services for Android. Moreover, making phones with Android turned out to be a piece of cake. Within a few weeks, a small team could provide a prototype with Android and show it to the management, a process that took much longer with Symbian and Windows Mobile.

The relationship with Apple and the iPhone

Steve Jobs was furious, as Fred Vogelstein mentions in his book Dogfight and Steven Levy in In The Plex . It was the summer of 2008 and Google wanted to announce the G1 with HTC and T-Mobile within a few months. Jobs of course knew about Google’s Android project, but thought it was a BlackBerry-like device that had to serve as a competition for Windows Mobile and Symbian.

Moreover, Jobs refused to see Google as a competitor. The then Google director Eric Schmidt had been on stage at the announcement of the first iPhone, because there were Google apps on the iPhone. Schmidt was also a member of the Apple board. In addition, Jobs was friends with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who both looked up to him. He had therefore heard of Android, but Page and Brin kept saying it was a small project and made it seem like they didn’t believe it had a big future – let alone competing with the iPhone.

The G1 had multitouch, something that Jobs had said during the presentation of the first iPhone that Apple had extensively patented it. During the presentation for Jobs, Google showed images of previous implementations of multitouch to convince him that Apple really didn’t invent it, but Jobs didn’t want to hear about it. He threatened with a lawsuit if Google would put the G1 on the market like that.

Google tackled. The threat of a lawsuit with Apple could potentially scare off providers and manufacturers, and that could be a death blow for an operating system that is yet to grow. Multitouch was not on the G1. Developers got it – of course – still talking after the release .

The removal of multitouch is an element in which Apple bothered Google, but otherwise Apple has helped its competitor in the saddle. Apple closed deals with one provider per country, so competing providers had to look for an alternative to the iPhone. Android was then ready as an alternative at exactly the right moment. For example, market leader Verizon in the United States was looking for an alternative to the iPhone at AT&T and ended up with Google and Motorola for the aforementioned Droid in 2009. In the Netherlands, that dynamic did not really play a role: the iPhone was only for sale at T-Mobile, just as the G1.

In addition, the iPhone forced Google to choose between both variants of Android it was developing. The first one was called Sooner, because he was able to get to the market faster, and most resembled a BlackBerry or Palm smartphone, without a touchscreen. The Dream was the second and it eventually became the G1.

The sequel: a rapid advance

The T-Mobile G1 also came out in the Netherlands from January 2009. If this had been a film, the device would have been a great success – but reality is often more nuanced and chaotic than a nicely streamlined script of a film. The G1 was not a huge flop, but certainly not a big success. Apps appeared and people bought it, but it wasn’t a flood of new users.

Moreover, a stream of other devices did not immediately follow the G1. At Mobile World Congress, five months after the announcement of the G1, Vodafone announced the Magic and it remained silent. It turned out to be calm before the storm. That summer HTC came with the Hero and Samsung with the Galaxy i7500. Then it went quickly: in 2010 the Samsung Galaxy S, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, HTC Desire, LG GW620 Eve and Google Nexus One were released. That fall, Android became the market leader in the Netherlands at the expense of Symbian, which happened a few months later worldwide.

The Nexus One turned out to be the first phone in the Nexus series loved. Google made this in collaboration with a different manufacturer. The intention was to release a phone every year for developers and enthusiasts with ‘clean software’ and the latest Android version. The Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus from Samsung, the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 from LG, the Nexus 6 from Motorola and finally the Nexus 5X from LG and Nexus 6P from Huawei finally appeared in that line. In 2016, Google decided that it wanted to design and make the hardware itself and came up with the Pixel phones. That line still exists and the search giant is likely to announce the third generation of Pixels soon.

In the beginning, Google also released many Android versions. Only later did it opt ​​for an annual release of Android with a few subversions, creating a fixed pattern. As a result, developers, providers and makers of smartphones know better when there is a new version.

Year Android Google hardware
2008 1.0 T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream
2009 1.1
1.5 Cupcake
1.6 Donut
2.0 Eclair
2010 2.1 Eclair
2.2 Froyo
2.3 Gingerbread
Google Nexus One (HTC)
Google Nexus S (Samsung)
2011 3.0 Honeycomb
4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
2012 4.1 Jelly Bean
4.2 Jelly Bean
LG Nexus 4
2013 4.3 Jelly Bean
4.4 Kitkat
LG Nexus 5
2014 5.0 Lollipop
5.1 Lollipop
Motorola Nexus 6
2015 6.0 Marshmallow LG Nexus 5X
Huawei Nexus 6P
2016 7.0 Nougat
7.1 Nougat
Google Pixel (HTC)
Google Pixel XL (HTC)
2017 8.0 Oreo
8.1 Oreo
Google Pixel 2 (HTC)
Google Pixel 2 XL (LG)
2018 9.0 Pie Google Pixel 3?
Google Pixel 3 XL?

The competition

The competition saw the rise of Android and had to respond. Microsoft did not sit still and had worked for a few years on a completely new version of Windows Mobile, which was released under the name Windows Phone 7. HTC, Samsung and LG, among others, used that operating system and Nokia was added in 2011. However, Windows Phone got no foot on the ground; it was probably too late to be on that first wave of providers looking for an answer to the iPhone. Apple had meanwhile put its phone on sale with many more providers, making Windows Phone suddenly the best operating system at best.

Before Nokia started working with Microsoft, it bet on Symbian. It made Symbian open source between 2008 and 2010. Symbian was owned by multiple phone makers and had multiple interfaces such as S60 and UIQ, but Nokia bought them all out in 2008 . Nokia founded the Symbian Foundation for the further development of the operating system with one interface. Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson promised to participate.

People within Symbian knew early on what Google was developing and recognized the threat. Former Symbian CEO David Wood writes in his book Smartphones And Beyond that in 2006 Google Symbian already informed about the plan to create a ‘mass market’ system for phones with the name Android. Nokia decided in 2011 to drop Symbian in favor of Windows Phone and in 2012 the last Symbian phone came out: the Nokia 808 Pureview, with its innovative 41-megapixel camera.

Nokia also worked on Maemo and in the fall of 2009 released the N900 with that operating system. A version for the mainstream market was not ready until mid-2011, when the manufacturer’s management had already opted for Windows Phone. The N9 still came out and reportedly sold well, but the platform had no future.

Microsoft and Nokia might have been late, but Palm did get close in timing: in 2007 and 2008 it had brought in many talented people who had proven themselves at other companies, such as Jon Rubinstein from Apple and Matias Duarte, who has been running Android’s design department for years. Palm had previously stopped using his own PalmOS and worked on WebOS, a successor based on a Linux kernel and web technologies such as WebKit, Javascript and css.

WebOS seemed on its way to great success after a successful introduction in early 2009, but Palm only had a deal with the smallest provider in the US: Sprint. That led to moderate sales. Market leader Verizon ordered huge quantities of the Pre Plus and promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing money on the release in the fall of 2009.

Things turned out differently: Verizon did not release the Pre Plus until early 2010 and did not purchase many of the telephones produced; a huge financial damper that Palm never recovered. In the rest of the world, such as Europe, Palm never got a foothold due to a lack of attention for, for example, language support and the release of devices. HP bought up Palm and stopped WebOS, which resold it to LG. The South Korean manufacturer has been making TVs with WebOS for several years now.

WebOS has indirectly had a major influence on Android. Duarte joined Google, which led to the Holo interface for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later to Material Design in later Android versions. It is the design line that Google is still following.

Android and iOS started to share the market together, but after the release of Android 1.0, the market share of another operating system also grew: BlackBerry OS. This was mainly due to popularity in the business market and among teenagers in the schoolyard. They found it particularly interesting because of BBM, the chat service that was affectionately called ‘ping’. BB OS, however, was on its last legs and making the successor turned out to be a lengthy process. BlackBerry 10 came out in 2013 and it turned out the battle was over.

BlackBerry still supports the OS, but no new features or phones are released. Current phones with the BlackBerry name are mainly from TCL, a Chinese manufacturer that has a license to use the name. BlackBerry makes an Android release and security software. The company is much smaller than before, but it has continued to exist.

Finally: the right moment

It may not have been intentional, but in retrospect you can say that Android has become so big, partly due to the excellent timing. If Android had been released two years earlier, the processors were not yet fast enough to run really nice apps and capacitive screens were not yet cheap enough to allow an interface for use with fingers. If Android had been two years later, a competitor would probably have grown earlier, such as Palm WebOS, Windows Phone or Nokia Maemo.

Android just came on the market when manufacturers and providers were looking for an ‘anti-iPhone’ and when the hardware parts to make such smartphones were available in good numbers and cheap enough. Sometimes you need luck to succeed, and Android has certainly had that luck.

But that happiness only made sense, because Google has realized in good time with Android what a smartphone of the future should be and how it should work. The Android team had the choice in 2007 to release the Sooner software and hardware, but chose to make the Dream come true. That was also possible, because Android was a clean slate; Microsoft also started with a clean slate, but was not ready until 2010. Symbian also wanted to start with a clean slate, but in fact it never quite worked out.

Now, Android is no longer the challenger that started with the clean slate. It has been the market leader for years and has already pushed many competitors out of the market, such as Bada, MeeGo, Firefox OS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10. Only for cheaper phones now seems with KaiOS – including the Nokia 8110 4G – an alternative with potential. Google is not the owner of KaiOS, but has purchased itself for 22 million euros and with making apps for the platform.

Ten years ago it seemed impossible that the market would be divided between two operating systems, but that is exactly what happened. And maybe we will laugh about this in five years, but it seems that the dominance of Android in the smartphone market is not over yet.

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