Fun names, serious stuff. We look at what makes the Android operating system so special.
There’s only one feeling that comes close to the excitement of unboxing a brand-new handset, and that’s the moment you download new Android updates for your current phone.
Android updates release every two to three months to fix bugs and make small tweaks, but every year or so there will be a big update. And these updates can affect everything from the design of your phone to the features available.
If you’re wondering why anyone would choose Android, you should know it’s the most popular operating system in the world. It runs on more than a billion phones and tablets. It’s also made by Google, so it’s great if you love your Google apps, like Google Maps and Gmail.
A Timeline of Android Updates
Android has been with us for almost nine years. During that time, we’ve seen loads of changes, tweaks and improvements. Ever since Google dived into the smartphone market, they’ve shown that they really care about getting it right, and have striven to create an operating system that works for both developers and consumers.
Back in late 2008, the first iteration of Android was launched, with a Beta version released for testing just a few months later, in February 2009. Although Alpha and Beta are commonly used to describe the experimental stages of a tech release, the Greek alphabet diverges after the letter B and moves on to Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.
Obviously not finding this very catchy, the Android team released their third version as “Cupcake,” starting a Western alphabetical journey that would take them to some seriously advanced technical destinations…
Android 1.6 – Donut
Continuing the trend for mouthwatering names, Android’s first OS release update had some very cool features. The quick search box allowed users to browse the web, and their phone’s content, straight from the home screen.
Donut also recognised that Android phones are likely to have a bigger diversity of dimensions across the many different brands and manufacturers, and subsequently became completely responsive.
We also saw the release of Google Play, although under the slightly less fun name of Android Market (does that sound like a robot shop to anyone else?), so that the third-party app scene could slowly start to take over our lives.
Android 2.1 – Éclair
Was the Éclair update as fancy and delicious as it sounds? Of course, it was! Anyone lucky enough to own an Android phone soon realised that their sat nav had become defunct because Google Maps Navigation basically functioned as an even better backseat driver. Plus, Google has a better voice than TomTom, in our humble opinion.
Customisation has always been important to Google, as a unique feature to competitively combat the more prescriptive operating systems. As well as the usual personalised ringtones and home screens, Éclair offered people the chance to use dynamic backgrounds that could change and move.
Finally, anyone who regularly uses the “OK, Google!” speech command feature will be delighted to know that its roots lie in this update. It had a cute little button that translated your spoken words into text while writing on your phone.
Android 2.2 – Froyo
The health fanatics’ favourite update, this refreshing refresh of the OS took speech commands to the next level with Voice Actions. They allowed you to search, set alarms and perform essential phone functions without any fingers or thumbs!
This is also when tethering became a legit thing in life, with the introduction of the (also delicious sounding?) portable hotspot. Some behind-the-scenes geeky stuff also meant that this update made phones super quick and reactive. So, if you wanted to watch a video on your phone, it would load faster than a hungry kid eating a pot of fro-yo on a hot summer’s day.
Android 2.3 – Gingerbread
Feeling nostalgic about this favourite school-time snack? Well, the Gingerbread update was far from retrospective, and arguably housed some of Android’s more progressive changes.
Gamers and gaming developers alike got a massive treat with the ability to build and play games with amazing graphics and 3D capabilities. Battery management tools also gave the power (quite literally) to users who could see where their juice was going in granular detail and make manual adjustments. We also saw the introduction of NFC, an incredible type of technology which acts as the basis for wireless payments and the ability to process information purely through proximity. Genius.
Android 3.0 – Honeycomb
Google really were busy bees while designing this tablet-friendly update. With new designs that fit beautifully on larger screens, a system bar to allow for better control and navigation and a Quick Settings system to let you see essential info with a quick flick of your finger, this sweet update was certainly paving the way for a future based on seamless usability and big devices.
Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich
Ice cream is all a matter of taste. Some people love chocolate. Some people love strawberry. Maybe that’s why the aptly named Ice Cream Sandwich update was all about personal preferences and making your phone right for you. More customisation settings gave users complete control over their home screen. Data usage control gave people the power to reduce costs and avoid penalty payments with warnings and auto-disabling features. NFC also got boosted to the next level, allowing Android-compatible phones to share info just from touching. Wasn’t this a joke prediction in Channel 4’s Nathan Barley? Well, it came true. And it was awesome.
Android 4.1 – Jelly Bean
With so many flavours and colours, jelly beans are probably one of the most imaginative sweets (especially where Harry Potter confectionery is concerned…) That makes this yet another appropriate name for an update that really thinks outside the box. Anyone who remembers downloading Jelly Bean for the first time probably remembers how cool it was to discover the Google Now feature. This scarily smart PA genuinely made lives easier. It could share the weather as you wake up, give you journey times just before your morning commute, and store easily scannable e-tickets for events they’d found in your inbox.
Knowing that people are busy, Google also tweaked its notifications so that you could take an action without having to click into the app. Finally it was possible to quickly reply to a text without switching screens. And, speaking of switching, there was a clever update with families and businesses in mind. It allowed for multiple accounts on one tablet, each with customised designs, layouts and data. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense.
Android 4.4 – KitKat
Have a break, have a KitKat. It’s been the Nestlé advertising slogan since 1958, and somehow it makes sense with the Android update too. With the new voice controlled “OK Google” feature, you could search the web, play music, send messages and issue a dozen more commands. All completely hands free.
The immersive design also made it easier to escape the everyday. Photos, books, articles and games now appeared to fill the screen, with other buttons and distractions fading away until you tapped to reveal them. With so many updates to functionality, the simple act of calling also got some TLC with this update. This included a smart “most popular” option of people you’re most likely to call, and a clever bit of code that searches Google to predict where unknown numbers come from.
Android 5.0 – Lollipop
Lollipop was a real game-changer for the Android community. Launching first on Nexus devices, the LG G3 and Motorola’s Moto X and Moto G handsets, it was gradually eked out to Samsung, HTC, Sony and other Android devices.
The 2014 update completely transformed the look and feel of Android’s design, upgrading it and making it sleeker and more modern. The recent trend of motion and immersive design were foundations of the design premise. We saw functionality that was all about modern multi-device living, with the ability to seamlessly switch between screens on other devices. Lollipops may sound silly, but this was a serious update that excited developers, tech bloggers and Android users alike. They were all thinking one thing: if this is possible, what on earth can we expect in the future?
Android 6.0 – Marshmallow
Sweet, soft and simple. This update may not have been as revolutionary as the previous one, but it certainly had some useful additions. Tapping the home button could suddenly get you access to Google Now, without having to break away from what you were doing on the screen. And even more control was given to the user with the ability to set permissions for apps to access certain functions on your phone, or information about you. Battery control also improved with Doze and App Standby, giving phone users more options for preserving power in a way that works for them.
Android 7.0 – Nougat
The current king of Android updates refines and improves on some of our favourite Android features. Quicker multi-tasking (just double-tap the recent apps button to switch between your two most recently used apps) and split-screen functionality are the big game-changers. However, you’ll also find improvements like multiple notifications for a single app bundled together for a more user-friendly experience. Also increased VR support and customisable quick settings.
Look out for Android 7.1.1 Nougat, which will be rolling out on the latest android handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S8 later this year. It includes fun new updates to the way you express yourself, like emojis (we’re loving the rock stars), the capacity to send GIFs from Google Hangouts or Messenger and app shortcuts straight from your home screen.
Should I upgrade to the latest update?
While Android updates can feel like a bit of a pain, it’s vital to make sure that you’ve always got the newest version. This ensures your phone or tablet is free of bugs and functions seamlessly, as well as being up-to-date with the latest security patches.