In July of 2005, Google quietly bought out a relatively young startup at 22 months then, founded by the quartet of Andy Rubin, Chris White, Rich Miner and Nick Sears.
This quirky startup had the ambitions to build an advanced operating system for mobile devices that would challenge Microsoft and Symbian, who were the incumbents then; both originally having started out as developers for personal digital assistants and pocket PC’s. Symbian was the more prevalent deployment used by many original equipment manufacturers, of whom Nokia was top. Rumours were rife over the next few years about the search engine giant’s intent to enter the mobile communications space and this turned out to be true with the launch of the G1 phone in 2008, in partnership with a US-based telco. This however is not where the crux of the story lies. There having been mobile operating systems and original equipment manufacturers before, Google made a smart play by going the open source way under the Android Open Source Project allowing anyone and everyone to build on top of its core, creating custom variants that could carry developers, OEM’s or mobile operators branding and user experience.
Twenty four fully-featured versions have been released since 2008 with no requirement to have any of Google’s other products as bundled under the Google Mobile Services Suite embedded in the final offering. The resultant network effects have seen Android dominate the global mobile operating system space with over two billion monthly active users and growing.
The ecosystem that they then opened up and scaled through Google Play and other digital distribution services as run and operated by your favourite OEM’s for example Samsung’s Galaxy Apps, Tecno and Infinix’s Palm Store, Huawei’s App Gallery, LG’s Smart World, Xiaomi’s MiMarket among others, has helped create entire businesses the world over, across varied sectors with a business model mix of; free with advertising support, subscription, one-off purchase or simply acquisition plus fulfilment with alternative revenue realisation via bank, card or mobile money where applicable.
The extension into wearables – Wear OS, content distribution – Android TV, mobility – Android Auto, IOT – Android Things and Business – Android Enterprise, only continues to add to its appeal and utility driven by the imagination and hopefully research of thousands of independent developers and software houses, a quid pro quo relationship of sorts that benefits consumers, builders and the platform owner, albeit arguably some more than others. Make time to watch the Android Developer Stories series online and get inspired, perhaps challenged to build something for fun or profit.