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Launched in 2003 at California, Android, Inc. gained attention of the search giant Google who bought it for nearly $50 million in 2005 and the rest as they say is history. With the inaugural Android mobile OS version introduced in 2008, the Google Android combination enjoyed a dream run to their latest Android 5.0 that was unveiled in 2014. No wonder that the top Android versions empower more than a billion devices across the globe. While there’s lot more to come out in the future, it makes sense to traverse the long and exciting journey of the operating system.
The first commercial version Android 1.0 witnessed daylight on September 23, 2008. The first device to run on the operating system was HTC Dream. Reports suggest that its suggested codename was Astro, though it was never made official. Some of its main highlights included:
– Web browser supporting HTML and XHTML pages
– Web mail server support
– Synchronized support for Gmail and Google Contacts, Calendar, Maps and Search
– IM, SMS and MMS support
– Media player, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support
Android 1.1 (believed to bear the codename Bender, though not made official) didn’t add significant changes.
Android 1.5 was the first version to carry an official codename – Cupcake. It offered support for virtual keyboard, widgets, video recording and playback, auto-rotation and video uploading.
Android 1.6 Donut supported multi-lingual speech synthesis engine, faster camera access, text-to-speech engine, WVGA screen resolutions and more.
By now, it became a custom to name Android versions after desserts. Android 2.0 (including 2.0.1 and 2.1) was named Éclair and as released on October 26, 2009. This version was improved in a number of ways, some of which included:
– Multiple accounts support for email synchronization
– Support for Microsoft Exchange
– Bluetooth 2.1
– Contact selection by tapping
– Improved camera abilities like flash support and digital zoom
– Optimized hardware speed
– Google Maps 3.1.2
– Added screen sizes and resolutions
– HTML 5 in browser
– Improved virtual keyboard layout
Android 2.0.1 and Android 2.1 didn’t introduce major changes.
Android 2.3, 2.3.1 and 2.3.2 were introduced under the codename Android Gingerbread. Their key highlights included simple and fast user interface designs, extra-large screen sizes and increased screen resolutions, voice and video chat support, open accessory library, improved network performance, camera software, increased battery efficiency and Google Wallet Support.
Android 3.0 and the consequent versions from 3.1 to 3.2.6 carried the codename Honeycomb. Released on February 22, 2011, it was the first Android version for running tablets only. Motorola Xoom was the first device to feature Android 3.0. Offering customizable 5 home screens and supporting multicore processors, the OS version brought in many new features. Here’s an extended list of highlights that helped the operating system to evolve further:
– The inaugural holographic user interface
– System Bar at the bottom of the screen for instantaneous access to notifications and more
– Multitasking made simplified
– Fast and more efficient and accurate typing with redesigned keyboard
– Action Bar added to the top of the screen for accessing variety of contents
– Camera features became quickly accessible
– Added two-pane Contacts UI and Email UI
– Complete user data encryption
Android 3.1 added to the list the changes and additions like refined UIs, USB On-the-Go, resizable widgets on home screen, external keyboard support, joystick and gamepad support, FLAC audio playback support, HTTP proxy support and much more.
Android 3.2 to Android 3.2.6 extended the support to devices powered by Google TV. The key features of these versions included improved support for hardware, applications’ enhanced ability to access SD card, Google Books update, improved browser support for Flash and ‘Pay as You Go’ support.
Ice Cream Sandwich was the name given to Android 4.0 when it was released on October 19, 2011. The name was retained for the versions 4.0.1 to 4.0.4. The main aim of the version was to unify the platform for tablets and smartphones. The two most talked-about features were Holo which promised exciting new visual appearance and Roboto, the new system font. Other noteworthy features of the versions from Android 4.0 to Android 4.0.4 included:
– Soft buttons from tablet-only version now implemented for phones
– New tab for widgets, easy-to-create folders, visual voicemail improvement
– Keyboard error correction improved
– Applications accessible directly from lock screen
– Face Unlock and Android Beam features
– Improved camera applications
– Built-in photo editor and fresh gallery layout
– Wi-Fi Direct
– 1080p video recording
– Improvement in the functioning of graphics, Bluetooth and databases
– Developers get new APIs
– Screen rotation became smoother
– Improvement in phone number recognition
Android 4.1 to 4.3.1 followed under the codename Jelly Bean. The versions brought along improvements like smoother user interface, improved accessibility, expandable notifications, rotation support for home/lock screen, multiple user accounts for tablets, improved Photo Sphere and much more. The support was also added for keyboard maps, multi-channel audio, audio-chaining, one-finger gestures, new clock application, group messaging and more.
Going further, Android 4.4 was introduced with codename Kitkat that would be shared by the versions from Android 4.4.1 to 4.4W.2. The notable features of these versions were white elements replacing the blue ones in the interface, immersive mode for applications, optimized performance for devices with low specifications, wireless printing support, NFC host card emulation, Chromium-engine based WebViews, Public API, storage access framework, audio tunnelling and monitoring, Android Runtime, Bluetooth message Access Profile, auto focus improvements, security enhancements, GPS support and offline music playback.
The Google I/O Conference in June, 2014 revealed the new version Android 5.0 with the codename Lollipop. On November 12, 2014, it was officially released over-the-air for selected devices. One of the biggest changes introduced was the new design language Material Design. Improved application performance and battery efficiency were other big targets of the version. Here’s the list mentioning its top features:
– Dalvik got replaced by Android Runtime which promised ahead-of-time compilation and enhanced garbage collection
– Support was added for 64-bit CPUs
– Android Extension Pack
– Print preview support
– Use interface restyled with Material Design
– Improved lock screen, notification tray and more
– Improvement in battery life through what was called Project Volta
– Multiple user accounts and guest logins extended to more devices
– Recently used applications can be viewed even after device restart
– 15 new languages added
– Tap and Go
– Smart lock feature
Android 5.0.1 and 5.0.2 didn’t introduce any significant features.
Android 5.1 and 5.1.1 added support for multiple SIM cards, improved device protection, high definition voice calls and improved notification priority system.
The latest preview of the next version provisionally titled Android M came up in July, 2015. Some big highlights expected from the upcoming version include fingerprint recognition support, Doze – the new power management scheme, USB Type C and 64-bit ARMv8 architecture.
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