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
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.