Ten years ago, the first commercial Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, was launched. While it came on the heels of the iPhone and was, naturally, seen as Google desperately chasing after Apple. But in the 10 years since that fateful September day, Android has grown from what many thought would be yet another failed Google experiment into the world’s largest smartphone platform, transforming smartphones and the tech world at large and, in a twist of fate, even shaping some of the iPhone’s features along the way.
It is perhaps fitting that the first Android phone was named the HTC Dream (sold by T-Mobile as the G1). It did all start with a dream and it wasn’t even Google’s dream originally. That dream was Andy Rubin’s, back when his company, Danger, was still making the famous T-Mobile Sidekick, a.k.a. the Danger Hiptop. Foreseeing the future mobile wars and not being satisfied with any existing solution that competed with what was then still called “iPhone OS”, Google acquired Rubin’s newborn Android, Inc. and the rest, as they say, is history.
We’ve definitely come a long way since then. The HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1 couldn’t be farther from today’s smartphones. Youngsters today might even laugh at the old tech just as they do the floppy disk and Walkman cassette players. It was bulky, heavy, and had a slideout landscape QWERTY keyboard that not even BlackBerry would dare use.
Today’s smartphones are all screen, a design that Apple had insisted on from the very beginning. But it was Android that took that to the extreme. Although Google did have some guidelines and examples regarding ideal screen sizes, it didn’t stop the likes of Samsung from creating what would be considered a niche market of phablets. Apple mocked that ridiculous size until it came out with the “Plus” iPhone models. Now its iPhone XS Max rivals the largest Android smartphones and “phablets” have become the norm.
But while Android smartphones have taken strides forward, there were also times when it seemed to have taken a step back. Almost all OEMs have now adopted a unibody design and, as such, have lost the ability to swap out dying batteries for new ones and requiring the entire phone to be replaced once the model has ceased production. Some arguably consider the removal of the headphone jack a similar regression.
Of course, the biggest changes have been in the software. We’re at Android 9 now, simply called Pie, which is actually API level 28. It has become a platform that many manufacturers, app developers, and content providers have come to rely on to reach more than 2 billion people. While there are definitely some things we still wish were better, Android’s openness and flexibility have allowed it to be used in places and use cases that Google could only dream of and Apple would never approve of.
And that is something that has more or less remained constant in Android throughout those 10 years. There are indeed times when it felt that the (corporate) powers that be would prefer to exercise an iron fist on the platform but, in the end, Android has remained the most successful open source mobile operating system in the market. And it will remain to be so thanks to a rather complex dynamic between Google, handset makers, developers, regulators, and open source advocates.
The story’s far from over, of course. We’re just marking the Android phone’s 10th year in the market, not it’s death. There is still a lot more to come, things that Google or even Rubin may have never imagine more than 10 years ago. The notch definitely took everyone by (slow) surprise. And a long-time coming is the dawn of foldable smartphones. Mobile gaming is also changing the smartphone from the inside and, soon, Light’s vision of a 9-camera smartphone might no longer sound so ludicrous. And Android phones will continue to push the limits of what mobile computing can offer to make our lives more convenient and more interesting.
Happy 10th birthday, Android phones! Here’s to another 10 years and to whatever sweet dessert will come after Android 19 “Z”.