Smartphones

Make sense of the Android buzz with this cheat sheet

Shawn Morton spells out the Android basics and provides several reasons why the Google Nexus One is a significant offering.

Shawn Morton spells out the Android basics and provides several reasons why the Google Nexus One is a significant offering.

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If you've been watching television in the United States over the past couple of months, you've probably heard all about what "Droid Does." Verizon and Motorola launched their latest Droid handset with a media blitz touting both the phone and the Android OS that powers it.

For many consumers, this was probably the first time they'd heard of Android. So before your end users call you up and pepper you with questions about the mobile OS, check out this cheat sheet for Android.

The basics

Android is an open source software stack for mobile devices being developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance. It includes an operating system, middleware, and key applications such as Maps.

Android runs on the Linux kernel, and the source code is available under an Apache License. There is also an SDK and an API that allows developers to create apps for Android handsets.

There are several online resources dedicated to Android. If you want to dig deeper into the technology side of Android, see:

Versions

There have been three updates to the Android OS so far. Each release has featured alphabetically-sequenced, dessert-inspired codenames. Here is an overview:

Version number (Codename)

Released

Key upgrades
1.5 (Cupcake)

April 2009

Camcorder mode to record and watch videos

Upload video to YouTube

Upload photos to Picasa

Bluetooth A2DP support

1.6 (Donut)

September 2009

Updated Android Market

Updated Voice Search

Updated Gallery interface

Overall speed improvements for camera and search

2.0 (Éclair)

October 2009

Support for more screen resolutions and sizes

New browser UI with support for HTML5

Updated Google Maps 3.1.2

Microsoft Exchange support

Digital zoom for camera

Bluetooth 2.1

Updated virtual keyboard

2.1 (Officially part of Éclair; nicknamed Flan)

January 2010

Launched with the Google Nexus One handset
2.2+ (FroYo)

TBD

The next version of Android has been named (FroYo is short for "frozen yogurt"), but few details have emerged about features.

Apps

Like the iPhone and its iTunes store, there is an Android Market that allows users to download both free and paid apps for their Android handsets. There are currently over 20,000 apps available.

Because Google has been so involved with the development of the OS, many of its apps are front and center in Android, including Gmail for email, Google Maps for navigation, Google Search and Voice Search for search, YouTube for video, and Picasa for photos.

Handsets

There are currently around 20 Android-powered mobile handsets available worldwide, with seven of those available in the United States. Android has also been included in netbooks by Acer, tablets by Archos, and e-readers such as the Barnes & Noble nook. The following table lists the seven mobile handsets that are currently available in the United States.

Name

Marketed as

Released

Android version

U.S. provider

HTC Dream

T-Mobile G1

Fall 2008

1.0

T-Mobile USA

HTC Magic

T-Mobile myTouch 3G

Summer 2009

1.5*

T-Mobile USA

HTC Hero

Same

Summer 2009

1.5*

Sprint

Motorola CLIQ

Same

Fall 2009

1.5

T-Mobile USA

HTC Droid Eris

Same

Fall 2009

1.5*

Verizon Wireless

Motorola Droid

Same

Fall 2009

2.0

Verizon Wireless

HTC Passion

Google Nexus One

2010

2.1

T-Mobile USA; Verizon Wireless (Spring 2010)

*HTC has created a custom HTC Sense UI for these handsets.

The future

All of the buzz around Android in the past couple of months has focused on the Google Nexus One (aka "The Google Phone") handset. While the initial launch was met with a lot of anticipation, sales haven't (yet) lived up to the expectations. Screen issues and a 3G bug haven't helped things in the weeks following the launch.

Despite these issues, the Nexus One is significant for the following reasons:

  1. It was offered exclusively through a software company, not from a major wireless provider, and was sold directly to consumers.
  2. Despite being coupled with T-Mobile USA at launch, the long-term plan is for the Nexus One to be carrier-agnostic.
  3. It was offered with two payment options: contract-subsidized ($179) and contract-free ($529).
  4. It showed that an Android phone could build the kind of buzz that had previously been reserved for the iPhone.

Not to be outdone by the Nexus One, AT&T kicked off 2010 with the announcement of five new Android handsets at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This means that, in the first half of this year, U.S. consumers will be able to choose Android on the four largest carriers.

Have you made the move to Android? If so, what do you think? If not, what do you need to see from the platform to consider it?

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5 comments
Bryce.Canyon
Bryce.Canyon

Just got my first real "smart" phone about 3 weeks ago. I moved from T-mobile (coverage area issues) to Verizon, and chose the Droid Eris. I work in IT, at a cutting edge firm, and this phone is one of the most amazing machines I've ever had the priviledge to use. It has not yet replaced my need to carry a laptop around at work, but is so close to it, that I'm constantly looking for new ways to perform old tasks. Won't be too long when I can leave that 7 pound albatross at home. Absolutely thrilled I made this move. loving every minute of my Droid. Only complaint is battery life. Could be longer. A full charge lasts not quite 24 hours.

rda
rda

I didn't get a G1 when it came out because it was klunky and the O/S wasn't tried and true then. When the myTouch3G was released though, I was there on day one to get one. While I do like it, I don't love it. It's nicely customizable and there are new apps every day. On the downside it can be slow as molasses as well as requiring a Force Close always at the worst times. Oh and the on-screen keyboard stinks. I'm hoping with the perliferation of Android phones across carriers, the phones will get faster to the point of being usable with a better keyboard and less crashing. Then it'll be "Tops" and I'll be in line for a new upgraded Android phone...

erricat
erricat

You forgot the Moment.

ozchorlton
ozchorlton

We should always forget Samsung My daughter's Samsung phone, died after 4 weeks!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

My Samsung phone says Cingular, as do two other phones in the family; we got them as the "penny" phones when we first got cellular service back in 2005. We'd still have four if one hadn't taken a bath. They make phone calls and allow text messaging. Everything else...not so much. But we bought phones, not devices. That probably explains why they've lasted so long.

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