Android had a big decade. In 2010, it was still a blip as far as mobile operating systems were concerned. Symbian, iOS, BlackBerry OS, WebOS, and Windows Mobile were all significant players back then. Now, as we’re about to dive into 2020, it’s the most dominant platform on the planet. How did it get here? What happened along the way? Here are the biggest Android milestones of the last 10 years and how they led to the platform’s success.
2010: A rising star
Google first launched Android in 2008, and the platform had just a toe-hold in the market at the end of 2009. As 2010 kicked off, Android held about 5% of the market for mobile devices. It vaulted to 13.8% by mid-year and closed the year at 24.5% — making it the world’s second-biggest platform of the time.
The most significant Android phones were the Motorola Droid, Samsung Galaxy S, and HTC Desire. While the Galaxy S line is now king of the Android hill, it was the Droid, in particular, that gave Android the visibility the platform needed to compete with the iPhone. It was Verizon’s darling device and put Android on the map in a big way.
None of these achievements moments were as important as what happened right at the end of the year.
Google launched Android 2.3 Gingerbread along with the Samsung Nexus S in December 2010. Gingerbread is likely the most significant version of Android ever. It was the linchpin for Google Play Services all the way through 2017. It was, historically, one of the most widely used versions of Android in the platform’s formative years as people began to adopt Android in real numbers.
2011: Laying the foundation
Android milestones throughout 2011 didn’t feel important when they happened, but in hindsight, they were far more critical than we could have anticipated. For example, February saw the launch of Android 3 Honeycomb — a version of Android just for tablets. It was a failure. The Samsung Galaxy S2 launched the same month, building upon a dynasty that lasts to this day. Other notable phones included the HTC Thunderbolt and the Motorola Droid X.
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However, it was software (once again) that defined Android in 2011. Google announced Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich in June and it debuted on devices that fall. Android 4 introduced the Holo design language and Roboto font, elements of which were transported from Honeycomb. Ice Cream Sandwich cleaned up and modernized the UI big time, and also included aspects such as Project Butter, which smoothed over performance. Where Gingerbread felt like a platform for geeks, Android 4 made the platform usable for regular people.
2012: Hardware takes over
Thanks to the one-two punch of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich, device makers started delivering well-built, usable hardware that people wanted to buy. 2012 has multiple Android milestones and pretty much all relate to the excellent array of devices released over the twelve-month period.
In 2012, Android flagships finally caught up with the iPhone
Here’s a selection: Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, Nexus 7 tablet, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and the Google Nexus 4. These were all hugely impactful phones that helped define the Android experience for a generation of users. Android was finally on par with the iPhone in terms of flagship hardware.
2013: Striding forward
This is the year Android software and hardware blended efforts in ways the benefited end-users. Google released Android 4.4 KitKat, which further smoothed over the appearance of the platform. It altered the green-tinged aesthetics of Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean in favor or a more neutral look. KitKat also brought us Google’s first efforts in the voice-based command space. People could say “Ok Google” to call up Google Now. This laid the foundation of what has since become Google Assistant.
The top devices were some good ones: the HTC One M7, the Google Nexus 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. These were popular with consumers and cemented Android’s status as the market leader.
2014: What to wear
The Android platform itself sort of held steady during 2014. We got Android 5 Lollipop and the Motorola-made Google Nexus 6, which were great additions to the OS and hardware family. Lollipop introduced Material Design, which set the stage for Android’s look and feel for years. The Nexus 6 was an enormous smartphone from Motorola and it was joined by the Nexus 9 tablet. All good stuff.
But the biggest of Android milestones in 2014 was the introduction of Android Wear. Google launched the wearable version of Android in March of that year and soon smartwatches from Samsung and LG reached the market. Android Wear later evolved into Wear OS and, while it doesn’t seem to be too important to Google anymore, it still remains a critical platform for smartwatch makers. It’s also Google’s only product that can keep the Apple Watch from being the only smartwatch.
2015: Securing the source
Android milestones were dominated by software in 2015. Sure, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5x were great phones, as were the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5, but it was Android 6 Marshmallow that really raised the bar.
Marshmallow saw a significant change in the appearance of Android. For example, Google dropped the black background for a white one. Google also spread more color throughout the UI.
Most importantly, 2016 saw Google start taking security and privacy more seriously. Marshmallow introduced platform-wide support for fingerprint readers, for example, and forced app developers to seek permission before accessing user data such as calls, location, and messages. These security-focused updates were a huge win for consumers.
2016: “Ok, Google”
Google introduced the Google Assistant in 2016, and it continues to be the biggest Android milestone apart from the launch of Android itself.
Assistant was first baked into the Google Allo messaging app and Google Home speaker. It represented the first time Android users could make true voice-based requests from a smart speaker. It was a two-way assistant similar to Apple’s Siri, meaning it would respond to people with vocal feedback.
Google Assistant later reached the Pixel and Pixel XL. Speaking of which, fall 2016 saw Google ditch the Nexus series in favor of the Pixel phones, which dramatically updated the hardware with a serious focus on photography.
2017: A good year for gear
Hardware makers had their day throughout 2017. With Google Assistant and Android 8 Oreo providing a foundation, there were plenty of exciting things to assemble in the hardware space.
2017 introduced some of the best Android phones ever
A short list of winning devices in 2017 includes the Google Pixel 2/2 XL, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Galaxy Note 8. If you wanted a phone that took killer pictures, had great battery life, and performed across the board, you had a wealth of options. Hardware makers knocked it out of the park in 2017. More importantly, the year saw device makers introduce high-end hardware that not only rivaled the iPhone, but surpassed it.
2018: Reaching maturity
If you’re looking for an Android milestone in 2018, it would be the platform’s new level of maturity. Android 9 Pie was a fantastic update to the operating system, with both user- and developer-centric features.
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Pie saw Adaptive Battery help extend battery life to new levels, as well as Digital Wellbeing help people better manage their time spent staring at screens. Pie also brought us more control over notifications and the pill-based user interface, which, while still janky, represents a move away from age-old, dedicated on-screen buttons.
With Pie, Android finalized its place as a capable, world-class operating system that earned its spot at the top of the market.
2019: Extended universe
As 2019 comes to a close, Google and Android have seen some major shifts. On the software front, Google dropped its more-than-a-decade-old system for naming major Android versions after desserts. Android 9 Pie was the last dessert, and it gave way to simply Android 10. It may only be a name, but it still marks the end of an era.
The final tick-tock to 2020 also sees Google in a new position of power. It owns the most dominant computing platform around the globe, and the myriad offshoots have set the stage for a brave new connected world. We have Wear OS for wearables, Google Assistant for smart, connected devices, as well as hooks into hearables, smart displays, and much more.
With so much Google already running our lives, where can Android possibly lead us as we jump into the next decade? We can only wonder.