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What Is an Android™ Phone?

Woman using an Android phone.
Android phone.
Android logo.
Android™ phones are smart phone which use the Google-developed Android™ operating system.
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  • Originally Written By: S. Gonzales
  • Revised By: Andrew Jones
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2014
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An Android™ phone, sometimes called a Droid™ phone, is a mobile telephone that uses the Google-developed Android™ operating system. This operating system has become a popular option in recent years for so-called "smart phones," because developers and manufacturers may freely customize it to their specific needs. This customization means that different Android™ phones can have widely varying user interfaces. Most smart phones — including those using competing operating systems — offer similar overall capabilities, however, including Internet browsing, personal information management, video streaming, and access to a large repository of freeware and payware applications.

Technical Specifications and Operating System

On the technical side, an Android™ phone runs the Android™ operating system, key applications, and middleware. It is Linux® kernel-based, and is written in the C language. Android™ runs applications that are written primarily in the Java® language.

Android™ phones are considered revolutionary in some circles because of the open source structure of the basic firmware. All developers, whether professional or hobbyists, are encouraged to write programs and applications for the operating system, and contribute to the evolving Android™ project by submitting them to Google's Play Store™, a closed source application for Android™ phones. Users may then choose to download and use the applications on their phones by accessing the application library via their handsets.

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Multitasking

An Android™ phone can run multiple applications at the same time in the background, making multitasking easier. This makes the functionality of the phone more fluid than some competing platforms, although the extent of this capability depends on the hardware of the individual phone. Some handsets use multicore processors, which are more useful for "power users" who need their phones to run multiple simultaneous operations.

Non-Proprietary Approach

Some comparable devices using other operating systems are governed by strict proprietary rules. Developers interested in writing applications for the iPhone™, for example, may not be permitted to create programs that closely mirror applications owned by Apple, such as iTunes™. All applications must be approved by Apple before they are permitted to appear in the Apple App Store™. This is not the case with applications for Android™ phones, which are developed under the auspices of the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium that encourages the use and advancement of open source software for mobile phones.

Another important distinction of the Android™ platform is that it is not tied to a specific hardware manufacturer. Any manufacturer interested in producing its own version of an Android™ phone is welcome to use the operating system. The result is that many competing cellphone companies now use this platform to power their mobile phones and to market their devices.

Historical Background

Initially, Google partnered with the High Tech Computer Corporation (now HTC Corporation) to build the first mobile phone to run the Android™ platform, known as the G1™ in the United States. In 2008, T-Mobile premiered the G1™ Android™ phone to the American public. Since then, dozens of manufacturers have brought hundreds of phones with this operating system to market.

Different generations of smart phones have run various versions of Android™. Each major software version is identified by a code name that is usually related to some sort of dessert. While many phones can be updated to newer versions of the operating system, this usually cannot be done indefinitely, because of the hardware limitations of the individual phones. For example, early phones like the G1™, which initially ran the 1.0 version of Android™, were eventually upgradable to version 1.6 (Donut), but could not be upgraded to later versions such as 2.3 (Gingerbread) or 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which require more robust hardware.

SDK

Android™ offers a Software Development Kit (SDK) to help developers create functional applications. While some parts of the Android™ operating system are protected under the Apache™ License to guard against applications that could compromise the phones' basic functionality, much of it is released under the General Public License, which invites developers to freely make modifications. The SDK includes extensive resources and tools to facilitate this sort of development. It is updated regularly, together with the operating system itself, and a priority is placed upon supporting work on both newer and older versions of Android™.

Rooting

Despite the relatively open structure of the operating system, manufacturers of many devices that use Android™ do frequently restrict user access to certain resources and functions within the structure of the software. Typically, manufacturers do this in order to ensure a consistently stable and predictable experience by all users, and possibly to maintain a certain level of control over how their products are used.

"Rooting" is the slang term for using software hacks to circumvent these restrictions in Android™. Some users opt to do this either in order to expand the capabilities of a phone or simply as a hobby and for purposes of experimentation. The process varies, but commonly involves downloading a special file from the Internet and installing it on the phone from an external memory card. Detailed instructions on how to root a specific Android™ phone are broadly available online, though users should be aware that there are risks to doing this. In many cases, rooting will void a phone's warranty, and there is also a potential that a device could be rendered useless should something go wrong.

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Discuss this Article

anon941855
Post 28

Give me the standard basic landline, mobile or cellphone, with big buttons and no crap. That way I don't have to worry about viruses, data theft, being overcharged, being the target of a legal action or being hit by a Mack truck whilst texting.

Smart phones are for dummies. So if I ever wanted to become a SP Moron (which is highly unlikely) I would invest in a (not so) smart phone, use it and fry my brain just to become another SP Zombie.

anon341760
Post 27

Does anyone have an lg optimus q and if you do do you like it?

TheTechguys
Post 23

The Android phone works with an Android operating system, basic applications, and middleware. Linux is the kernel-based, and written in the language C. Android and manages applications that are written primarily in the Java language.

anon201243
Post 21

What's the difference between Android and the OS used in iPhones? Which is better? --TexturePacker

anon199609
Post 20

I have HTC 7 mozarit windows mobile phone and I want to change to android.

anon181549
Post 19

I love the customizations of android but the market is full of trash!

anon160829
Post 18

I used to be a big fan of Apple, whom I actually saw as a challenger to Microsoft and their domination of the market at the time, until I actually brought one of their laptops! Then I realised just how aggressive their marketing strategy was and how protective they were of their copyrights (greed, greed and more greed!)

What really put me off was when I loaded songs that I had written and recorded myself onto the iBook and then lo and behold, it suddenly seemed to become property of itunes! Error. I don't think so, thank you very much, so now I don't touch them (and in fact I do try to avoid any company that seems to seek world domination).

So, yes the bottom line is I'm very interested in the Android concept (and Open Source software generally - anything to take the big bullies down a peg or two) so I would like to know more.

anon159283
Post 17

I have an android phone and love it. You likely won't be able to get away from having to charge the battery daily. But it's all due to the fact that the phone is so great. It has so many features, great large screen, excellent technology and lends itself to so many uses. You won't be able to put it down throughout the day. Definitely thumbs up!

anon153038
Post 15

How good are the battery lives of these android dependent touch phones? if they are being used for music as well as movies and internet. Basically, what models are there that won't need a daily recharge?

anon152074
Post 14

@lokithebeak: yeah i have one and its really good, i think its better than the Iphone cause some of the phones have a 1.2 GHZ processor unlike the Iphone. The market is pretty awesome too. I've found most of the apps that I really wanted, so does that answer your question?

anon151566
Post 13

Does anybody know what sim cards androids take?

anon148353
Post 12

@lokithebeak: I have had both the iphone and just got a andriod. both phones are great and you can't go wrong with either one. It's more of a performance when deciding between the two.

So far i have found that the iphone user interface is much easier than the android and the apple app store has a much wider selection of apps than the android market. Then for the android it is a crap load more customizable then the iphone and can put what ever app you want on it. but does not have as good of an m3player that i iphone has nor as well developed music store that the iphone has. The android market is pretty small now, but hopefully, it will greatly expand and more big time game developers like square enix, electronic arts and sega will start to release games and apps for the android market like they are doing now for the iphone's app store.

so it pretty much is customizable (android) or more clean and user friendly interface (iphone).

subramanyamp
Post 11

I am very addicted to games especially computer games, but while traveling we can’t carry the laptop and even if we carry the laptop it isn't comfortable playing games. I was thinking of mobile games and luckily found your website. Really, I am very, very happy and thanks a ton for this article.

anon121559
Post 9

Very good phone.

anon109274
Post 8

I have the HTC hero as well. it's awesome! I have a friend with the iPhone and he was so impressed with my hero he went and purchased one and says he will never go back to iPhone again.

anon104774
Post 7

I have a toshiba tg o1, had it for nine months. it has been replaced by orange three times. at the time of writing the replacement phone (no. 4) It is less than a month old and it's not working again. If you want a touch screen phone that does it all avoid this phone like the plague, it's the worst heap of crap i have ever owned. You're better off with two tin cans and a bit of string.

anon103207
Post 6

Actually if we use the function in the phone like facebook, do we have to pay money for the internet?

anon99106
Post 5

I have the touch "moment" from Sprint. And. I love it! Its an android phone and I enjoy the apps and all the realms of choices I have! I love the way Facebook looks like I'm on a real computer!

anon95738
Post 4

I have the HTC Hero, and absolutely love it! They're reasonably priced now, and comparable to the iPhone. I've found it to be very user friendly, and from someone who wasn't even using a smart phone before this, that's saying a lot.

anon90518
Post 3

Android phones are great. The iPhone has iTunes, which means a lot to some people, but if music and movies are not your primary concern, then an Android phone may be a good choice for you.

I love mine!

techgeek101
Post 2

I bought the iPhone 3GS...I love it. I've heard some complaints about the Android not being as user-friendly, but not much other than that.

lokithebeak
Post 1

I've seen the commercials and there was big hype for a while of course, but I haven't really heard anything about how good/bad it is.

Anybody have one of these and are they worth it?

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