Brief History of Android

Android was first publicly noticed in 2005 when Google acquired a small startup called Android, Inc. This fueled speculation that Google wanted to enter the mobile space. In 2008, the release of version 1.0 of Android put an end to all speculation, and Android became the new challenger on the mobile market. Since then, it's been battling it out with already established platforms such as iOS (then called iPhone OS) and BlackBerry, and its chances of winning look rather good.

Because Android is open source, handset manufacturers have a low barrier of entry when using the new platform. They can produce devices for all price segments, modifying Android itself to accommodate the processing power of a specific device. Android is therefore not limited to high-end devices but can also be deployed to low-budget devices, thus reaching a wider audience.

A crucial ingredient for Android's success was the formation of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) in late 2007. The OHA includes companies such as HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola, and NVIDIA, which collaborate to develop open standards for mobile devices. Although Android's core is developed mainly by Google, all the OHA members contribute to its source in one form or another.

Android itself is a mobile operating system and platform based on the Linux kernel version 2.6 and is freely available for commercial and noncommercial use. Many members of the OHA build custom versions of Android for their devices with modified user interfaces (UIs)—for example, HTC's HTC Sense and Motorola's MOTOBLUR. The open source nature of Android also enables hobbyists to create and distribute their own versions of Android. These are usually called mods, firmwares, or ROMs. The most prominent ROM at the time of this writing was developed by a fellow known as Cyanogen and is aimed at bringing the latest and greatest improvements to all sorts of Android devices.

Since its release in 2008, Android has received seven version updates, all code-named after desserts (with the exception of Android 1.1, which is irrelevant nowadays). Each version has added new functionality to the Android platform that has relevance in one way or another for game developers. Version 1.5 (Cupcake) added support for including native libraries in Android applications, which were previously restricted to being written in pure Java. Native code can be very beneficial in situations where performance is of upmost concern. Version 1.6 (Donut) introduced support for different screen resolutions. We will revisit this fact a couple of times in this book because it has some impact on how we approach writing games for Android. With version 2.0 (Éclair) came support for multi-touch screens, and version 2.2 (Froyo) added just-in-time (JIT) compilation to the Dalvik virtual machine (VM), which powers all the Java applications on Android. The JIT speeds up the execution of Android applications considerably—depending on the scenario, up to a factor of five. At the time of this writing, the latest version is 2.3, called Gingerbread. It adds a new concurrent garbage collector to the Dalvik VM. If you haven't noticed yet: Android applications are written in Java.

A special version of Android, targeted at tablets, is also being released in 2011. It is called Honeycomb and represents version 3.0 of Android. Honeycomb is not meant to run on phones at this point. However, some features of Honeycomb will be ported to the main line of Android. At the time of this writing, Android 3.0 is not available to the public, and no devices on the market are running it. Android 2.3 can be installed on many devices using custom ROMs. The only handset using Gingerbread is the Nexus S, a developer phone sold by Google directly.

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