But where does Android come from? Chronicle of a hectic story

Do you know the story of Android? From the crazy dreams of General Magic to Google, we tell you about the epic of the most popular operating system in the world.

Android is a  success story . It is the most widely used consumer operating system in the world, with more than two billion monthly active users. It is  open source – its code is accessible to all – and placed under the aegis of Google. His mascot is a little green robot called “  bugdroid  ” and he probably turns your phone.

The official unveiling of Android dates from 2007, but the story of this operating system has its roots much earlier, in the 90s. To go back to these origins, we can start with a short answer, amazing, and somewhat provocative. In one sentence and initially, Android comes from Apple.

General Magic (1991): the apple and the android

Behind the sleek image that Steve Jobs has sold to us, Apple is a company with a very tortuous and contradictory history. Start-up from an environment of hackers with an ideology close to today’s open source , entered almost backwards in the world of business, Apple Computer had had its lightning rise to a principle of open architecture where all other computer manufacturers relied on closed systems (!)

In the early 1990s, a young engineer by the name of Andy Rubin is hired at Apple. He arrives at a company that pushed Steve Jobs out a few years earlier and compensated for his tyrannical style by taking a very “  democratic  ” (in fact, bureaucratic) structure. His passion for robotics earned him the affectionate nickname of ”  Android  ” by his colleagues.

Andy Rubin is nicknamed “Android” by his colleagues at Apple

This is the time when the big names of the team that invented the Macintosh gather around the ideas of Marc Porat, recruited by Apple to think about the future of digital. And the future he imagines is extraordinary: everyone would hold in his hand a tiny computer connected to a global computer network, allowing everyone to communicate with everyone, for example by exchanging photos on a service called “  Facebase  ”(sic).

These ideas being too crazy for the Apple of the time, the start-up General Magic was born in 1991 to continue them. Andy Rubin joined in 1995 this adventure where he lets his imagination overflow. Online games, e-commerce, downloadable application stores, voicemail, emojis and stickers; all our modern uses are there. And yet, all have been imagined before the Web, SMS, or effective touch screens (that the start-up sees as essential).

Unfortunately, General Magic’s ideas are far too far ahead of their time. The first company to pay the fees will be Apple, which will be phagocyting the work of its former employees to produce the Newton, an overpriced fiasco that will plunge the firm into chaos after 1993. The end will come more slowly for the start-up , which after a product failed in 1995 will wither in the second half of the 90s.

General Magic’s influence on Silicon Valley will be considerable. His former employees will sow the seeds of this dream of smartphones everywhere. Among the biggest hits, Pierre Omidyar will start eBay and Tony Fadell will sell the iPod idea to Steve Jobs.

Danger Inc. (2000): the first modern smartphones

Andy Rubin left General Magic in 1997 to first join WebTV, the start-up founded by his friend and colleague Steve Perlman, whom they met while working at Apple. As the name suggests, WebTV is the first commercial service to connect televisions to the Web. The company is quickly acquired by Microsoft, which makes MSN TV.

Rubin moved from Microsoft in 1999 and founded his own start-up, Danger Inc., in 2000. Two years later in 2002, the company launched its first product, the Hiptop Terminal, also called SideKick. The device runs DangerOS, an operating system written in Java, and is developed in close partnership with the US telecom operator T-Mobile.

The Sidekick, the first “smartphone” designed by Andy Rubin

But Danger is struggling to take off and his board is getting impatient. He ejects Rubin from his post in 2003 to a veteran telecom. The engineer then decided to found a new start-up, named after the nickname he used to receive from his colleagues from Apple: Android.

Android Inc. (2003): the mysterious start-up

When Android Inc. was born in October 2003, it was a quiet start-up with unclear activities, just to know that they have something to do with mobile devices. His primary goals are the development of an operating system for cameras , with a cloud service called Android Datacenter to store his photos online.

It initially has trouble attracting investors. In 2004, the company was saved by a financial hand of Steve Perlman, the friend of Andy Rubin, who injected $ 10,000 in cash followed by a transfer of funds of undetermined value. At the end of 2004, the start-up is moving towards the first smartphones.

Symbian was the main mobile operating system of the time

“We decided cameras were not a big enough market,”  Rubin said in retrospect in 2013. ” I was worried about Microsoft and Symbian . ” Symbian was the main mobile operating system of the time, used by several brands, but including Nokia. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile was one of its smaller competitors.

Android Inc.’s strategy is to gain as much market share as possible before making a profit through additional services. Hence the intention of the start-up to make its operating system free and open source , to encourage telecom operators to adopt it.

Rubin’s project seems crazy

Telcos are kings at the time and persuading them to share their power on the mobile is not an easy task. Rubin’s project seems crazy for many people. As one investor told Steve Perlman in 2003:  “He would have to sell at least a million of these things to get the balance. He tries to empty the sea with a spoon. “

Google (2005): the launch

Android catches the eye of Larry Page, one of Google’s two co-founders. The other co-founder Sergey Brin and the CEO at the time, Eric Schmidt, are both rather cautious about the idea of ​​mobile. But Page is seduced by this idea of ​​an open mobile ecosystem carried by Google and especially that allows to strike a blow to the old giants that are the telecom operators.

Google buys Android in early 2005 for about $ 50 million and the small team moves to the Googleplex campus in July 2005. Culturally, Rubin struggles to get used to the flat hierarchy of the Mountain View company and  must  leave his sports car in the garage, because considered too ostentatious. The rest of the startup continues to function as an  “island” , with a distinct culture and mistrust of Google’s authority.

The HTC Dream (2008), also called T-Mobile G1.

The Android operating system is unveiled in 2007, open source and based on the Linux kernel. But to launch a phone carrying this OS, you need the support of an operator, and they are not enthusiastic about going out of their closed systems. After initially refusing after six months of negotiations, T-Mobile finally accept – largely thanks to the intermission of the co-founder of Android Nick Sears, former senior executive of the firm.

The first devices (2008)

Google and Android think they can finally blow. But while they put the finishing touches to their G1 , a smartphone with the appearance of a BlackBerry, patatras: Apple reveals the iPhone! Rubin is very impressed by the thing and pushes for a touch screen to be integrated in the G1, which is launched in 2008 under the alternative name of HTC Dream. Despite this setback, the iPhone will be beneficial for Android, because it destabilizes the balance of power between telecom operators.

With its closed system and almost total control over its product, Apple is walking directly on the telcos. In addition, the firm has signed an exclusive contract with AT & T, which rival the competitors of the latter. When the Motorola Droid Android comes out in 2009, Verizon puts the package on communication with $ 100 million in marketing. This phone becomes the first mainstream device under this OS.

It was not until 2011 that Samsung rose to the position of the world’s leading manufacturer

It was not until 2011 that Samsung, thanks to its Galaxy S2 , rose to the position of the world’s leading manufacturer of Android smartphones, thus completing the reign of Nokia.Starting this year, Android is emerging as a mobile operating system and the smartphone landscape is taking its current shape.

As for Andy Rubin, he left the Android division in March 2013 to focus on ” moonshot ” projects  such as Boston Dynamics robots. He finally resigns from Google in 2014 after  internal charges of sexually assaulting an employee, pocketing $ 90 million, and launches his Essential smartphone brand in 2017 .

What is Android today?

Android is supported by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) , a consortium founded by Google in November 2007 and comprising 84 companies. These include, among others, device manufacturers, such as Samsung or LG; component manufacturers, such as ARM or Qualcomm; and telecom operators, such as Vodafone or T-Mobile. Consortium members do not have the right to produce their own competing versions of Android, officially to avoid fragmentation of the ecosystem, although some see it as a manifestation of Google’s hegemony. In February 2009 comes the first update of the OS, Android 1.1 , nicknamed internally “  Petit Four

This is the beginning of a long series of pastry and candy names for each version of Android, in alphabetical order. The rest of the year sees 1.5 Cupcake , 1.6 Donut , and 2.0 Eclair versions  . In 2010 come the versions  2.2 Froyo and 2.3 Gingerbread . In 2011, it’s  3.0 Honeycomb  and  4.0  Ice Cream Sandwich . In 2012,  4.1 Jelly Bean ; in 2013,  4.4 Kit Kat ; in 2014,  5.0 Lollipop ; in 2015,  6.0 Marshmallow  ; in 2016,  7.0 Nougat ; in 2017,  8.0 Oreo  ; and in 2018, 9,0 Pie.

At the time of writing this article, we are still waiting to know what will be the official name of Android Q .

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