Before Google’s Android ruled the world, it had to get radical. I had a front row seat

I was strapped into a bean bag chair and reached for the phone that was out of my reach. This was no ordinary smartphone of the time. It has been T-Mobile G1, known outside the US as the HTC Dream, is the first phone ever to run Google’s new Android software. I just had to get it in my hands.

No, it wasn’t the sliding screen, the ergonomic QWERTY keyboard, or the navigational trackball that made my fingers shake. Instead, it was the arrangement of the pixels on The 3.2-inch screen caught my attention.

I was at the Google Developers Conference in 2009, right down the street from CNET’s San Francisco office, and for one reason only. My job that day as a startup mobile app reviewer was to get hands-on with the first wave of apps running on Android, Google’s bold new competitor to Apple’s smash hit app. iOS for iPhone. Fortunately for me, I was able to see these programs before almost anyone else in the world.

The first Android “apps,” as we called them then — “apps” being the snack you order before a meal at a restaurant — were a far cry from the cheesy, image-heavy apps we take for granted today. Loading time was glacial. Live demo failures were frequent. The graphics are action-packed, and the entire experience harkens back to Web 1.0. However, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google, did not need to do this Belt on roller blades To attract attention during Android’s debut on September 23, 2008 for us to notice.

I mean that was it Google. on smart phone. They have our attention.

As Android prepares to celebrate its 15th anniversary, it is the most widely used mobile operating system worldwide. There are more than 3 billion active Android devices (not just phones), Google told CNET in an email. Seven out of 10 phones on the planet are running Google’s phone operating system as of August 2023, according to StatCounter — a staggering 70% of the world’s phone population. Android’s global majority reflects not only the staying power of Google’s mobile vision, but also a seismic shift in society: the estimated 4.6 billion smartphone owners globally have largely replaced standalone cameras, and in many Places, personal computers. Anyone can use it.

(In the US, Android is second only to the iPhone, with 46.5% of the US market in March 2023, according to Statista.)

Today, there are more than 2.5 million Android apps in the Google Play Store, according to Statista (Google declined to share exact numbers). Primitive Android Market Launched with about 35 applications, the first generation of software was Clunky and weak in strength Compared to other smartphone software today. For example, you couldn’t even change the camera settings on the first Android phone.

However, it won’t be long before Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS rewrite the rules of smartphones. Google just needed to harness the same revolutionary spirit as Apple, whose iPhone had caused a sensation in 2007 and made Android a platform where mobile apps were widespread and extremely easy to use.

Google’s success was not a coincidence. Android was once popularized Candy-themed versions Such as Cupcake (Android 1.5) and Lollipop (Android 5.0, 5.1), strategic partnerships with device makers like Samsung and Motorola, and an attempt to take on Apple in key ways — push notifications, turn-by-turn navigation, mobile payments, and wireless charging — helped create phones that It can do it all and most of us would feel lost without it today.

Google continues to write the next chapter as well. Android advances have ushered in an era in which screens on phones are now tablet-sized Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Fold it in half Apps can now jump and bend from one configuration to another, even across multiple screens.

If anyone looking at the first Android apps expected the platform to take over the world, it certainly wasn’t me. Maybe I was too old to announce the withering of every healthy competitor It wasn’t Android or iOS. especially Since former competitor Symbian once ordered 70% of global market share. Black Berry And Microsoft Windows Mobile The platforms were shining stars in their own right, and Revamped Palm’s WebOS operating system She later blossomed into a darling of the tech media. In many ways, these established competitors outpace Android and Apple in power and sophistication.

Looking back, Google’s decision to follow Apple and bring apps back to their core was radical given the way smartphones were going. Was this the point all along?

Context, as they say, is everything. Stay with me here. Let me paint you a picture.

Google’s first “phone” paves the way

the Apple iPhone? That’s logical. Apple was still cultured and boutique but had gained mainstream credibility Popularizing the iPodThe premium portable music player. iPhone, then, was like The iPod is bigger and better Which used to make calls, and – unheard of – you could navigate by placing your finger directly on the screen. But Google was an Internet search company that also sold a lot of advertising. Google phone…did that make sense?

“Someone frantically scratched with a dry-erase marker on a company-sized whiteboard,” I books From a planning meeting I attended before its launch in 2008. “Will it be called the Google Phone or the G Phone?” No, it turns out. It wouldn’t be until eight years later, in October 2016, that the first Android-powered Pixel phone arrived, with no additional software layer or graphics from the phone brands themselves. And Google doesn’t seem to mind one bit.

T-Mobile G1 is the first Android phone

HTC was a frequent partner of Google in the early days of Android. The T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream has a unique design that was sometimes frustrating to use.

James Martin/CNET

Working with device makers such as Emerging powerhouse HTC Creating a rainbow of compatible devices while Google provided the Android software was key to Google’s genius brand. And so dozens of third-party developers were called in — many as eager to leverage Android as they started with Apple — to provide a new batch of apps that ran on the new platform.

That’s how I eventually found myself knee-deep in a bean bag in a quiet enclave of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, making my way through a parade of new Android apps, many modeled after similar versions first built for the iPhone.

I remember leaving the conference with five app demos that day, and my original writing seemed to get lost in a forgotten corner of the internet. One of the things I remember was TuneIn Radio; A colleague might describe a newer version of iOS as… “Almost perfect” for his day. In the demo I saw, you could select radio stations from around the world and see what others on the app were listening to at that moment.

One screen included a leaderboard of popular songs, and another contained a map of the world. Part of the demo didn’t work, and I was told, not for the last time, to focus on the description and let my imagination do the rest. The executive running the demo emerged from the bean bag next to me, proud of the handful of options the app offers.

I remember thinking: “Great…but is this it?”

Just like everyone else, I had a lot to learn – and I was forgetting what I learned, too.

“Radical” Android apps have helped flip the scenario

Here’s what you need to know about apps in the early 2000s. The absolute simplicity of this new generation developed by Apple and later Android was a radical idea at the time, contrary to what everyone was doing.

Apple and Google were “riding the horse backwards,” as my late father once said about the late Steve Jobs. (My father knows, he came Silicon Valley Home Computer Club At the same time as Apple’s co-founders Jobs and Steve Wozniak.)

T-Mobile G1 HTC Android phone

The Android Market initially launched with around 35 apps. After that, developers created apps in droves.

James Martin/CNET

As part of my personal campaign at the time to become the CNET staff’s favorite mobile app reviewer, I cajoled my fellow hardware reviewers into letting me edit Feature phones Such as smart phones Samsung Blackjack, Palm Treo 650, Nokia N95 And BlackBerry 7100 When they weren’t using them, so I could learn and write about their applications.

I wanted to decipher their secret and complex languages, such as gesture-based languages The scenario is called Graffiti Conducted by Palm Pilots, a portable electronic organizer (not a phone!) popular with the executive set.

In my assignment, I used tiny pen tools to tap on the screen, juggled tiny QWERTY keyboards that seemed to have swallowed Alice’s shrinking potion, and looked at file systems and nested folders with fonts so small that I had to stare at a screen just inches from my student to read.

Before the advent of iPhone and Android, mobile devices typically mimicked full-sized desktop computers. With a logic aimed largely at professional business people, these early smartphones were extremely powerful and forward-looking systems for their time. They were also expensive and attracted rare customers. It’s not the kind of personal device that a child or even a somewhat curious late adopter could afford—let alone pick up and use right away.

This is exactly what made Android and iOS so different from the “top” mobile platforms of the time. They worked because they didn’t try to recreate anything superficial or complex. For its part, Google realized that live apps on devices that were easy to use could change lives by removing the friction and pain points of the (wonderfully nostalgic) little laptops that came before.

With Android, you don’t need to have high-tech experience, memorize precise navigation steps, or demonstrate fine motor skills like you did with previous generations of devices. Early Android apps didn’t have the necessary feel tasty. Like the iPhone apps, these seemed largely instinctive.

In other words, Android was never for computer geeks and tech nerds, but for everyone.

Android “something else”

One ingredient in Android’s special sauce was its appeal to an untapped group of casual users. But listen. Google has done something else that Apple’s iPhone hasn’t done, and that’s crucial to Google’s own success.

Because Google started out by owning the platform, not the hardware, and because it avoided an end-to-end ecosystem from the beginning to work with HTC and other phone manufacturers, In reality I embraced difference.

Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro

Google will officially unveil the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro on October 4, 2023.


This means that Android can be everywhere, with enough hardware standards to integrate everything together. (Remembers Android Go?) This flexibility opened the door for Android to reach devices with completely different shapes, prices, and hardware specifications.

Yes, varying pricing, hardware configurations and software versions also cause this to happen Horrible retaila A thorny topic to another day. (The backlash against fragmentation also led to a 2014 campaign called “Be Together. Not the Same,” launched by Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who was then a senior vice president at Android.)

Regardless of the retail issues, whatever the reasons that led someone to buy one phone instead of another, Android phones were there with a series of options.

In the end, was this the answer that had been staring at me in the bean bag the whole time? Could it be that at the core of Android’s widespread success is the boldness to let people in wherever they are, rather than supporting an elite group of overcrowded device owners? Looking back, it seems pretty clear to me now.

“Great…but is this it?”

Maybe so. Or perhaps the philosophy driving Google’s dominance in Android was so simple, and indeed profound.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: