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What is Android?
Android is the name of the mobile operating system made by American company; Google. It most commonly comes installed on a variety of smartphones and tablets from a host of manufacturers offering users access to Google’s own services like Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail and more.
This means you can easily look for information on the web, watch videos, search for directions and write emails on your phone, just as you would on your computer, but there’s more to Android than these simple examples.
Android, Inc. was founded in Palo Alto, California in October 2003 by Andy Rubin (co-founder of Danger),Rich Miner (co-founder of Wildfire Communications, Inc.), Nick Sears (once VP at T-Mobile), and Chris White (headed design and interface development at Web TV) to develop, in Rubin’s words, “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. The early intentions of the company were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras. Though, when it was realized that the market for the devices was not large enough, the company diverted its efforts toward producing a smartphone operating system that would rival Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Despite the past accomplishments of the founders and early employees, Android Inc. operated secretly, revealing only that it was working on software for mobile phones. That same year, Rubin ran out of money. Steve Perlman, a close friend of Rubin, brought him $10,000 in cash in an envelope and refused a stake in the company.
What can an Android phone do?
Android phones are highly customisable and as such can be altered to suit your tastes and needs with wallpapers, themes and launchers which completely change the look of your device’s interface. You can download applications to do all sorts of things like check your Facebook and Twitter feeds, manage your bank account, order pizza and play games. You can plan events on from your phone’s calendar and see them on your computer or browse websites on your desktop and pick them up on your phone.
Another neat feature of Android is that it automatically backs up your contacts for you. When you set up an Android phone you’ll need to create a Google Account or sign in with an existing one. Every time you save a number to the address book of your Android phone it will be synced to your Google Account.
The benefit of this is that if you lose your phone all of your numbers will be saved. The next time you get an Android phone (or and iPhone or Windows Phone if you prefer) and sign in with your Google Account, all of your contacts and friend’s numbers will be displayed in your new phone’s address book immediately, no need to transfer or back them up anywhere else.
Syncing is a way for your phone to keep all your information; websites, contacts, calendar entries and apps up-to-date. This can happen over your phone’s mobile data or WiFi connection, seamlessly, in the background.
What apps can I get on an Android phone?
There are hundreds of thousands of apps and games available to download from the Google Play store (formerly the Android Market). There are camera apps that allow you to take pictures with artistic effects and filters on them and music players which allow you to stream music from the web or create playlists. You can customise the appearance of your Android handset with a number of wallpapers based on pictures you’ve taken yourself or downloaded from the internet too.
There are also various on-screen widgets to download which allow access to and the alteration of settings on your phone, without the need to dive through menus as you would on non-Android devices. You can pretty much create your own system of shortcuts and menus to better suit how you uniquely use your phone.
How can I get apps on an Android phone?
The majority of apps can be downloaded from the Google Play store (the equivalent of Apple’s App Store), which includes a mix of free as well as ‘premium’ apps that you have to pay for. Some apps have ‘lite’ versions which are free, in the hope you’ll enjoy them and upgrade to the full premium version. Others – like Angry Birds – are free, but include adverts or the ability to make in-app purchases.
The same account that lets you backup your contacts can also have financial details added to it, allowing you the ability to purchase content from the Google Play store directly. You can pay either by debit or credit card and initial setup takes less than five minutes from a computer.
Although there are well over a million apps available to Android users in the Google Play store, some developers choose to make their apps available to download from their own sites or alternative app stores. In order to download these you’ll have to change some settings on your phone before visiting these sites on your Android phone’s web browser. By downloading apps outside of the Google Play store, you do run the risk of attack in the form of data theft leave yourself more susceptible to viruses, so be careful if you choose this route.
Should you upgrade or change your Android phone; log into your Google account and you’ll be able to download your previously owned apps again, without being charged.
What is Google Play ?
Google Play is the Android storefront where you can shop for apps, games, music, videos and books for your Android device. It offers both free and paid apps. Any items you download from Google Play will also be available on other compatible Android devices you’ve connected to your Google account.
Does Google make any Android phones?
Although Google owns the OS (Android) they have not made any hardware on which it runs in-house. However, they have partnered with various handset manufacturers over the years to make their own-brand smartphones under the ‘Nexus’ name.
Google’s Nexus phones are typically the first to receive new updates and are considered to be the flagship Android phones, even though some other Android devices sport larger screens, better cameras and more powerful hardware.
Google is constantly working on new versions of the Android software. These releases are infrequent; at the moment they normally come out every six months or so, but Google is looking to slow this down to once a year. Check out our handy, comprehensive guide to every Android version.
Versions usually come with a numerical code and a name that’s so far been themed after sweets and desserts, running in alphabetical order.
- Android 1.5 Cupcake
- Android 1.6 Donut
- Android 2.1 Eclair
- Android 2.2 Froyo
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- Android 3.2 Honeycomb – The first OS design specifically for a tablets, launching on the Motorola Xoom
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: The first OS to run on smartphones and tablets, ending the 2.X naming convention.
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Launched on the Google Nexus 7 tablet by Asus
- Android 4.2 Jelly Bean: Arrived on the LG Nexus 4
- Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
- Android 4.4 KitKat: Launched on the LG Nexus 5
- Android 5.0 Lollipop: Launched on the Motorola Nexus 6 and HTC Nexus 9
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Launched on the LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P
The latest version, Android Marshmallow, aims to make the OS more user-friendly, with improved battery life and more control over your apps. Here’s what’s changed between the different Android versions.
How do I get an update?
Android updates are normally received OTA (Over The Air), that is, sent directly to your Android phone without the need for a computer. Normally, once your Android phone or tablet is due to get an upgrade, you’ll see a notification in the bar at the top of the screen. You’ll then be prompted to connect to WiFi to avoid incurring extra data charges – updates can be quite big and downloading them over a mobile data connection isn’t advised as it may result in expensive data charges.
Updates are generally one-stage processes and relatively straightforward, but in some cases you may need to back up/save any media (photos, movies, music) or apps you’ve downloaded before updating.