What is Google Android?

A guide to Google's Android mobile operating system

Android is a mobile operating system or OS, which is basically the software that runs on a number of mobile devices — generally smartphones and tablets. The Android operating system is developed by Google and a collaboration of companies called the Open Handset Alliance (OHA).

The Open Handset Alliance is a group of mobile companies including manufacturers of mobile devices like Samsung, Sony, HTC, Motorola and LG, as well as mobile carriers such as Vodafone. According to the OHA, its aim is to enable everyone in the mobile industry to "innovate more rapidly and respond better to consumers' demands".

What is an Android phone?

An Android phone is any smartphone that runs the Android software platform. Because Android is an open sourced software platform, multiple manufacturers produce Android phones, including the likes of HTC, Samsung, Sony, Motorola and LG, just to name a few. This is unlike the closed platform of competitors like Apple, which builds both the software and hardware of its iPhone, and Research in Motion (RIM) — manufacturer of BlackBerry smartphones — which does the same.

Android phones can come in various shapes and sizes, but all have large touchscreens; most are at least three inches in size (when measured diagonally) and above, and are operated by simply tapping your finger on the screen. Some Android phones may also have a combination of both a physical keyboard and a touch screen. Almost all Android phones include a camera and come with basic features like Wi-Fi, for the ability to connect to a wireless network, Bluetooth, GPS, a standard headphone jack and a standard micro-USB port for charging and connecting the phone to a computer.

Popular current Android phones include the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC One X. Android phones are sold in Australia through all major mobile operators including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

What is included on an Android phone?

Any Android phone comes pre-loaded with a range of Google services including Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Calendar, Google Latitude and YouTube. Android phones also come with a mobile web browser, meaning you can access the Internet on your phone wherever and whenever you are; provided of course you have mobile coverage and an appropriate data plan.

Because Android is an open source piece of software, Google actively encourages manufacturers to make basic changes to the look and feel of the user interface. This means that the interface of an Android phone from HTC will look and feel different from a Samsung Android phone, despite the fact both phones run the same software platform.

An Android phone requires the use of a Google Account, and this provides a great way of automatically backing up your data. An Android phone automatically synchronises your Google calendar, mail and contacts databases over-the-air. If you add a new contact or calendar event on your PC, it will automatically appear on your phone and vice versa. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one on the phone itself. In the unfortunate event that you lose or misplace your phone, your data will be stored on your Google account; the next time you sign into your account on another Android phone, your contacts and information will be available.

What is the Google Play store?

The Android platform was built with mobile apps firmly in mind, and these are downloadable through what's called the Google Play Store (formerly known as the Android Market), which comes with every Android phone. Both free and paid apps are available, and paid apps can be purchased with a credit card.

Unlike the iPhone, developers who create applications for Android devices have much more flexibility. An Android application can all be built to have full access to a device's capabilities; as an example, there are a number of apps in the Google Play store which completely change the look and feel of the home screen, something that is not possible on the iPhone.

Android software updates

As part of the OHA's commitment to innovate and respond more rapidly to consumers, Google constantly updates the Android platform in what is called a software update. On average, the Android platform is updated two or three times a year and each software update provides new features, enhancements and improvements.

These updates are free and are usually provided over-the-air -- this means the software is pushed to your device wirelessly, so you often don't need to plug your phone into your computer to receive the update. The timing and delivery of Android software updates depends on a number of factors including your mobile phone manufacturer and your mobile carrier.

Each version of Android software comes with a number code and a matching nickname, usually related to food deserts. As an example, the very first version of the Android OS was 1.5 or "Cupcake," while the latest version is currently 4.0 or "Ice Cream Sandwich". Other Android software versions have included 1.6 or "Donut", 2.1 or "Éclair," 2.2 or "Froyo" (which is short for Frozen Yogurt), 2.3 or "Gingerbread" and 3.0 or "Honeycomb."

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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