The Android ecosystem is a pretty awe-inspiring environment, with close to three million apps in Google Play, over 1.6 billion Android devices in the world and close to nine tenths of the mobile operating system market in its grasp. But even within that vast narrative, a few events stand out as particularly noteworthy.
I’m talking about Android miracles, the kinds of events you probably never would have believed until you saw them with your own eyes. I’m not going to claim divine intervention here and this list is by no means conclusive, but here are a few standout stories from the Android world.
The best OEM specific features
Google nailed photography on its first try
Google isn’t exactly a struggling startup with limited resources and a fledgling understanding of smartphone photography, but what it achieved with the Pixel camera is truly remarkable. The Pixel was the first truly “Google phone” where Google controlled the entire stack and it managed to instantly become the best smartphone camera anywhere, overnight.
Meanwhile, other OEMs with hundreds of devices under their belts still struggle with smartphone cameras and image processing to this day.
Much of the Pixel’s camera magic comes from its algorithms, something Google admittedly knows a little bit about. But for Google’s camera team to be able to apply the company’s search algorithm know-how to creating the best burst shot image processing around on the first attempt is still pretty miraculous. I can hardly even imagine how much better it’s going to get on this year’s Pixels.
OnePlus, root and warranties
Rooting an Android device comes with inherent risks, the kinds of risks that no OEM in their right mind would allow you to take and still fix your phone under warranty if you break something. But OnePlus was the right mix of crazy and loyal to its fanbase when it decided that rooting its phones would not instantly void your warranty.
The company was smart enough to note that if you do cause damage to your phone through the process of rooting or unlocking its bootloader that it won’t be covered under warranty. This makes pretty obvious sense.
The previously unheard-of offer OnePlus made was that if you had a problem with your rooted phone not directly attributable to rooting it or unlocking its bootloader, that it would still be covered under warranty as normal.
Nvidia’s update miracle
The landscape of Android updates more closely resembles a teeming swamp of over-worked engineers, disgruntled customers, and the carcasses of devices left behind than it does the fairy tale castle of iOS updates. But that still didn’t stop Nvidia from pulling off a legitimate miracle with the original Shield Tablet.
That device launched in mid-2014 with Android KitKat on board. It was updated in early 2015 to Android Lollipop (within a week of Nexus devices), then to Android Marshmallow in January 2016 and finally to Android Nougat in February 2017. That’s four major Android version releases released for a single device – a feat not achieved by any Android smartphone I’m aware of (at least not officially). Who knows if it will also get Android O – but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it did.
WhatsApp is worth how much?
This was another Android event no one saw coming. WhatsApp’s co-founder Jan Koum had only recently spoken out about WhatsApp never having ads because he preferred being accountable to the user (thanks to the $1 annual subscription fee).
Fast forward a couple of weeks and WhatsApp accepted a Facebook buy-out that eventually became worth $22 billion by the time the deal concluded, with Koum the recipient of roughly $10 billion. The price tag was, and in many ways still is, staggering, spawning an entire meme factory around “things that cost less than WhatsApp”.
In hindsight, there was never that many folks that could realistically buy WhatsApp, and they were all pretty big hitters. Google had already had a $10 billion offer turned down before Facebook opened its coffers, and Larry Page reportedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to outbid the Facebook offer at the eleventh hour. Despite knowing that even more money was ultimately on the table, it was still pretty unbelievable that a five year old startup could be worth that much money.
Operation Human Shield
A lot of folks say they’d die without their smartphones, but one guy literally would have. You may have seen the recent story of a Chilean man saved from a bullet through the chest by his trusty Honor 5X he kept in his breast pocket. The bullet miraculously failed to pierce the metal chassis of the smartphone and the man lived to tell the tale.
If this story sounds kind of familiar, that’s because almost the exact same thing happened late last year with the Huawei P8 Lite and another poor guy in South Africa. Again, the man was shot during a robbery and was again saved by a well-placed metal-framed smartphone. The internet is rife with these kinds of stories, just going to show that while some of the other examples on this list may not exactly be supernatural, sometimes Android miracles really do happen.
What other hard-to-believe Android stories did I miss? Hit the comments and share your favorites.
*Yes, I used the customizable Samsung Galaxy S8 navigation buttons in the feature image for this article on purpose. Samsung ditching the physical home button and offering reversible nav buttons is, to many, the miracle of all Android miracles.