The Android Platform


Many of you have undoubtedly heard of mobile devices running on the “Android Platform”.  But, what is it exactly, and how could you take advantage of the platform?  You may have noticed, too, that Google seems to be synonymous with this platform.  What stake could Google possibly have in pushing this platform along?  These are but a few questions we will address, today.

As a matter of fact, Android is actually owned by the Open Handset Alliance, but it is a platform championed by Google.  At Android’s core, however, it is a truly open platform that aims to separate the hardware and software that runs on it.  Technically speaking, the Android platform is not specific to cellular phones but actually have many applications.

Android is a comprehensive stack for mobile devices by virtue of so many devices running on it.  For a developer, Android provides all the tools and frameworks you need to quickly and easily develop mobile applications.  All you need is the SDK (Software Development Kit), you don’t even need a physical device!  Although, it never hurts to test your application on a physical device.  From a consumer standpoint, Android works out of the box and  a user can highly customize their experience.  For manufacturers, other than some hardware-specific drivers, Android provides everything else needed to make things work.  This gives manufacturers the freedom to tinker with hardware configurations like providing larger screens, more memory, adding unusual hardware like finger-print readers, and so on. No assumptions are made about the physical devices it runs on, making it truly portable.

As mentioned earlier, Android is an open-sourced platform. The entire stack, from the low-level Linux modules to the native libraries, application framework to complete applications are totally open, and licensed under business-friendly open-source licenses (Apache/MIT).

Brief history by events

Google and the Open Handset Alliance

Google’s motivations might seem a little idealistic but it appears to want to have Android running everywhere.  In doing so, it hopes to create a level playing field for mobile devices.  Ultimately, Google is a media company who’s business model is by and large based on selling advertising. The rationale is that if everyone is using Android, Google can provide additional services on it and compete fairly.   This is quite unlike most software companies who depend on revenue from licensing fees.  Granted, Google does receive some revenue from licensing certain products like Maps and Gmail, and from the Android Marketplace, but for the most part advertising is it’s bread and butter.

For Android to be larger than just Google, it’s owned by the Open Handset Alliance.  This is a non-profit group formed by mobile operators, handset manufacturers, semiconductor companies, software companies and others.  The alliance is still in it’s infancy, however it is committed to innovation and openness on the mobile platform.  The members are learning to work with each other, and Google does seem to be putting in the most muscle behind the development and advancement of the Android platform, at the moment.

Versions of Android

As of today, the most recent version of the Android Platform is 3.0. Like all software, the platform matures and improves over time.  As developers it is important to know what API (Application Programming Interface) level an application is targeting.  Ultimately, the API level will determine which devices can and cannot run your app.

As of March 15, 2011 this is the breakdown of the Android platform distribution:

Source: Platform Versions

You may notice that not many users have the latest and greatest version of the Android platform, but a substantial number of users are running on Android 2.1 and 2.2. Conversely, there are a fair number of users still using Android 1.6 and 1.5.  With this in mind, developers will most likely target their applications for version 1.6 or 2.0.  Unless, of course, you absolutely need the features in version 3.0.  It all tends to be a bit of balancing act, and like most things, compromises need to be made.

As you can see, the Android platform is designed from a very fundamental level to be a highly portable and comprehensive format for mobile devices.  Without the Android platform and a push by industry leaders, we would have been locked into the dictates of proprietary platforms forcing hardware to conform to rigid standards.  With Android, manufacturers, software developers, and content providers have the flexibility and malleability to provide exciting new services and devices.  In short, the Android platform has become an industry game-changer.

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