Five years ago yesterday the Android mobile OS was introduced to the public on the HTC/T-Mobile G1. Today it’s the world’s dominant operating system, with a larger user base than Windows desktop computers.
The world doesn’t need another timeline of Android’s ascension — you can already find one right here on the forums. Instead, here’s a more personal history of Android and I.
2009: First Sighting
I saw the G1 — my first Android device ever — on tour with Nokia in the summer of 2009.
I was one of four bloggers who travelled across the USA in a doomed mission to promote the N97. I say “doomed” because Nokia was already too late; Each of the four major carriers already had a flagship device: the iPhone for AT&T, the Palm Pre for Sprint, the BlackBerry Bold for Verizon and the G1 for T-Mobile.
When the G1 was sheepishly pulled from someone’s purse for me to examine I didn’t quite know what to make of it. The hardware was interesting, particularly the swing out screen, but the software seemed rough.
In hindsight I should have ran straight to the nearest T-Mobile store and bought one as a collector’s item.
I’ve told this story before. In November, 2010 I was enjoying a lavish breakfast at my hotel in Kuala Lumpur, reading more doom and gloom about Nokia on my new Nexus One.
That article is, by the way, a really good read for Nokia refugees, citing the company’s failure to recognize the sea change from PDA phones to Internet devices — and I was reading this on just such a device. Browsing the web was itself a revelation; I could double-tap a web page and the browser would automatically zoom in so that the text filled the entire width of the screen. Magic.
If you’re not familiar with the term PEBKAC, it’s an acronym: “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair”.
It pretty much sums up my first attempt to install a custom ROM.
In April, 2011 I upgraded to a Nexus S, freeing up my first Nexus from its daily duties and making it the perfect test subject for my unholy experiments. Only problem was, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
From the XDA forums I followed instructions only enough to get me into trouble, and it wouldn’t be until many flashes later that I would come to understand the functions of ADB, Fastboot and the Dalvik Cache.
Needless to say, once a custom firmware finally took I felt like a hero. And If I can share a little secret, one of the big reasons why I stick with Nexus devices is that I’m scared to flash anything else.
I can’t point to a single observed event that marked Android’s world dominance, just a growing awareness that it was everywhere.
A trip to Hong Kong at the start of that year pretty much confirmed it. In visits past the iPhone reigned supreme, but now a Samsung device of some sort seemed to be in every hand.
Back at home, friends and colleagues were also making the switch. One by one dumb phones, BlackBerries, even iPhones were supplanted by Android.
In Japan the iPhone has yet to be usurped, but the humble Nexus 7 is the most popular tablet there.
It’s all wonderful and a bit scary, as Google now has their claws in just about everyone’s personal data. With this in mind I’m unsure as to how much longer Android’s reign will last. But the great thing about technology is that another major disruption is always on the way.