Earlier than Google’s Android Dominated the World, It Needed to Get Radical. I Had a Entrance-Row Seat

Trapped in a bean bag chair, I stretched for the telephone held simply past my attain. This was no bizarre smartphone of the day. It was the T-Cell G1, generally known as the HTC Dream outdoors the US, the first-ever telephone working Google’s new Android software program. And I simply needed to get it in my palms.

No, it wasn’t the slide-out display screen, recessed QWERTY keyboard or navigational trackball that set my fingers wagging. As a substitute, it was the association of pixels on the three.2-inch show that demanded my consideration.

I used to be at that bean-bag-festooned Google developer convention in 2009, simply down the road from CNET’s San Francisco workplace, for one motive alone. My job that day as a budding cell app reviewer was to go hands-on with the primary wave of apps to run on Android, Google’s daring new rival to Apple’s smash-hit iOS for iPhone. And fortunate me – I acquired to see these packages earlier than virtually everybody else on the planet.

The primary Android “purposes,” as we then referred to as them – “apps” had been nonetheless the snack you ordered earlier than a restaurant meal – had been removed from the wickedly responsive, image-rich apps we take as a right right now. Load time was glacial. Stay demo failures had been frequent. Graphics bordered on juvenile, and the complete expertise harkened again to Web 1.0. But Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Web page hardly wanted to strap on rollerblades to grab eyeballs throughout Android’s debut on Sept. 23, 2008 for us to take notice.

I imply, this was Google. On a smartphone. They’d our consideration. 

As Android prepares to mark its fifteenth anniversary, it is essentially the most broadly used cell working system across the globe. There are greater than 3 billion energetic Android units (not simply telephones), Google instructed CNET in an e-mail. Seven out of 10 telephones on the planet ran Google’s telephone OS as of August 2023, in keeping with StatCounter – a staggering 70% of the world’s telephone inhabitants. Android’s international majority displays not simply the endurance of Google’s cell imaginative and prescient, however a seismic shift in society: The world’s greater than 4.6 billion estimated smartphone owners have largely changed standalone cameras and, in lots of locations, personal computers. And anybody can use them.

(Within the US, Android is second to iPhone, proudly owning 46.5% of the US market in March 2023, in keeping with Statista.)

At present, over 2.5 million Android apps populate the Google Play store, in keeping with Statista (Google declined to share precise numbers). The rudimentary Android Market launched with about 35 apps, and the primary technology of packages had been clunky and underpowered in comparison with different smartphone packages of the day. For instance, you could not even change digicam settings on the primary Android telephone. 

Nonetheless, it would not be lengthy earlier than Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS would rewrite the smartphone guidelines. Google simply wanted to harness the identical revolutionary spirit as Apple, whose iPhone made a splash in 2007, and make Android a platform the place cell apps proliferated and had been lifeless easy to make use of.

Google’s success was hardly unintended. Android’s once-hyped dessert-themed variations like Cupcake (Android 1.5) and Lollipop (Android 5.0, 5.1), strategic partnerships with {hardware} makers like Samsung and Motorola, and a drive to beat Apple in key methods – push notifications, turn-by-turn navigation, cell funds, wi-fi charging – have helped create the do-everything telephones most of us would really feel misplaced with out right now.

Google continues to put in writing the following chapter, too. Android developments have ushered in an period by which screens on tablet-size telephones just like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 fold in half and apps can now leap and bend from one configuration to the following, even throughout a number of screens.

If anybody wanting on the first Android apps predicted the platform’s world domination, it certain wasn’t me. I in all probability was an excessive amount of of a n00b to have declared the withering of each wholesome rival that wasn’t Android or iOS. Particularly since erstwhile competitor Symbian as soon as commanded 70% international market share. BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Home windows Cell platforms had been shining stars in their very own proper, and Palm’s WebOS revamp later bloomed right into a tech media darling. In some ways, these established rivals far outstripped Android and Apple in energy and class.

Wanting again, Google’s determination to comply with Apple and peel again apps to their essence was radical given the best way smartphones had been going. Was that the purpose all alongside? 

Context, because it’s mentioned, is the whole lot. Stick with me right here. Let me paint you an image. 

Google’s first “telephone” set the stage

The Apple iPhone? That made sense. Apple was nonetheless cultish and boutique however had constructed mainstream credibility popularizing the iPod, its signature transportable music participant. The iPhone, then, was like a greater, higher iPod that made calls, and – unprecedented – you possibly can navigate by placing your finger proper on the display screen. However Google was an web search firm that additionally bought a variety of advertisements. A Google telephone… did that make sense?

“Somebody feverishly scratched a dry-erase marker on a corporate-size whiteboard,” I wrote of a planning assembly I attended forward of the 2008 launch. “Would it not be referred to as the Google Telephone, or the G Telephone?” Neither, it turned out. It would not be till eight years later, in October 2016, that the primary “pure Android” Pixel telephone arrived, with out an additional software program layer or graphics from the telephone manufacturers themselves. And Google did not appear to thoughts one bit.

T-Mobile G1 1st Android phone

HTC was a frequent Google companion within the early Android days. The T-Cell G1/HTC Dream had a novel design that was generally irritating to make use of.

James Martin/CNET

Working with system makers like rising powerhouse HTC to craft a rainbow of appropriate {hardware} whereas Google provided the Android software program was key to Google’s model of genius. So was summoning scores of third-party builders – many hungry to money in on Android as they had been beginning to with Apple – to produce a contemporary injection of apps working on the brand new platform.

That is how I ultimately discovered myself sinking right into a bean bag in a quiet pocket of San Francisco’s Moscone Middle, tapping my approach by means of a parade of latest Android apps, a lot of them modeled on related variations first made for iPhone.

I recall leaving the convention with 5 app demos that day, my authentic writeups seemingly misplaced to a forgotten nook of the web. One I keep in mind was TuneIn Radio; a colleague would describe a later iOS model as “near-perfect” for its day. Within the demo I noticed, you possibly can choose radio stations from everywhere in the world and see what different individuals had been listening to on the app proper at that second. 

One display screen included a leaderboard of common songs, one other a world map. A part of the demo did not work, and I used to be requested, not for the final time, to lean into the outline and let my creativeness do the remainder. The chief working the demo beamed out from the bean bag subsequent to mine, happy with the app’s handful of choices.

I keep in mind considering, “Cool… however is that it?”

Identical to everybody else, I had so much to be taught – and unlearn, too.

“Radical” Android apps helped flip the script

Here is what you might want to find out about apps within the early 2000s. The sheer simplicity of this new technology superior by Apple and later Android was a radical notion for the time, the other of what everybody else was doing.

Apple and Google had been “driving the horse backward,” as my late father as soon as mentioned of the late Steve Jobs. (Dad would know; he attended the Homebrew Laptop Membership of Silicon Valley concurrently Apple co-founders Jobs and Steve Wozniak.) 

T-mobile G1 HTC Android phone

The Android Market initially launched with round 35 apps. Then, builders created apps in droves. 

James Martin/CNET

As a part of my private marketing campaign again then to change into the go-to cell app reviewer on CNET employees, I had wheedled and cajoled my hardware-reviewer colleagues to let me tinker with function telephones and smartphones just like the Samsung BlackJack, Palm Treo 650, Nokia N95 and Blackberry 7100 after they weren’t utilizing them, so I might be taught and write about their apps. 

I needed to decode their secret, advanced languages, just like the gesture-based script referred to as Graffiti that performed Palm Pilots, an digital handheld organizer (not a telephone!) common with the chief set.

In my quest, I wielded tiny stylus instruments to faucet the show, mashed minuscule QWERTY keyboards that had seemingly swallowed Alice’s shrinking potion, and peered into nested file programs and folders with fonts so small I needed to squint at a display screen mere inches from my pupils to learn.

Earlier than the iPhone and Android, handheld units generally mimicked full-size desktop computer systems. With a logic largely aimed on the besuited enterprise skilled, these early smartphones had been intensely highly effective, future-looking programs in their very own time. They had been additionally costly and beckoned a rarefied clientele. Not the form of private system a toddler or mildly curious late adopter might afford – by no means thoughts instantly decide up and use. 

That is exactly what made Android and iOS so completely different from the “prime” cell platforms of the day. They labored as a result of they weren’t attempting to recreate something outwardly brainy or advanced. Google, for its half, understood that simple apps on units that had been straightforward to make use of could possibly be life-changing by eradicating the friction and ache factors of these (splendidly nostalgic) mini handheld computer systems that got here earlier than. 

With Android, you did not have to possess high-tech savvy or memorize exact navigational steps, or exhibit tremendous motor abilities as you probably did with earlier system generations. Early Android apps did not essentially really feel sensible. Like iPhone apps, they felt largely instinctive.

Put one other approach, Android was by no means only for pc geeks and tech nerds, however for everybody. 

Android’s “another factor”

One ingredient of Android’s particular sauce was its attraction to an untapped pool of mainstream customers. However, pay attention. Google did another factor that Apple’s iPhone did not, and that is crucial to Google’s specific taste of success. 

As a result of Google started by proudly owning the platform and never the {hardware}, as a result of it eschewed a top-to-tail ecosystem from the very starting to work with HTC and different handset makers, it de facto embraced distinction.

Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro

Google will formally reveal the brand new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Professional on Oct. 4, 2023.


That meant Android could possibly be in all places, with simply sufficient {hardware} requirements for the entire thing to hold collectively. (Bear in mind Android Go?) That flexibility opened the door for Android to land on units with wildly completely different shapes, costs and {hardware} specs.

Sure, divergent pricing, {hardware} configurations and software program variations additionally triggered the dreaded fragmentation, a thorny matter for one other day. (Backlash towards the fragmentation downside additionally prompted 2014’s marketing campaign “Be collectively. Not the identical,” launched by Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, then an Android senior vp.)

Fragmentation points apart, no matter causes somebody had to purchase one handset over one other, Android telephones had been there with a cascade of choices.

In the long run, was this the reply staring me within the bean bag all alongside? Might or not it’s that the kernel of Android’s wildly ubiquitous success was the audacity to let individuals in, wherever they had been, reasonably than champion an elite cohort of clubby system homeowners? Wanting again, it appears so clear to me now.

“Cool… however is that it?”

Perhaps so. Or simply perhaps, the philosophy driving Google’s Android domination was so easy, it is truly profound.