The Big Android Dictionary: A Glossary of Terms You Should Know
Android comprises an entire ecosystem of apps, games, functions, and features, so it would only make sense that it has its own lexicon. Words, phrases, and acronyms that didn't exist 7 years ago are now used in an off-the-cuff style by developers and support technicians across the web.
As the platform matures, this list of unique Android words continues to evolve, which makes it hard to stay on top of the latest terminology. But breaking things down into simple terms is what we do best here at Gadget Hacks, so below, we'll cover all of the latest Android lingo in layman's terms.
A screen or menu within an app that can be called on specifically. Use an app like Tasker or Activity Launcher to open an activity directly.
Short for Android Debug Bridge. Software that bridges the gap between your Android device and a computer, allowing you to send high-level commands to your phone or tablet over a USB data cable.
Short for active-matrix organic light-emitting diode. A type of display panel pioneered by Samsung where individual pixels emit their own light, removing the need for the backlight required in traditional LCD panels. AMOLED screens are distinguishable by their deep blacks and saturated colors.
The world's most popular operating system for any platform, even eclipsing Windows in market share. An open-source platform that is currently developed by Google, but was originally derived from Linux as a touch-oriented fork of the popular desktop operating system.
Short for Android Open Source Project. The base of Android as a whole, which is used by manufacturers and independent developers to create the firmware an Android device runs on. Used colloquially to refer to an unmodified version of Android in some cases.
Short for Android application package. The extension used in Android app installation files (e.g., app.apk). Similar in nature to an EXE file on Windows.
Short for application. A software program, generally developed for a mobile platform, that can be used to perform any number of tasks.
Short for Android Runtime. Android's new virtual machine library that replaces the older Dalvik. ART enables the same applications to run on vastly different hardware by acting as a go-between.
A type of wireless connectivity for battery-powered devices that allows for data transfer at speeds of up to 24 Mbps over a theoretical range of up to 100 meters. Used commonly to connect accessories like headphones and speakers to an Android device.
The software that launches Android and its ancillary services when you power on your device. Also provides an interface for sending fastboot (see below) commands over a USB computer connection.
An error that occurs when software has become corrupt and your device immediately restarts when attempting to boot into Android, then repeats this process infinitely. Similar to a soft brick (see Bricked entry below).
A device whose software has been compromised (generally by the user) to the point where it will not boot into Android, rendering it as useless as a paperweight or brick. The term hard bricked is used to refer to a device in such a state as a result of failed hardware, while the term soft bricked generally denotes a software failure that can potentially be fixed.
A text file located in Android's system folder which contains many lines of code that determine several settings for the device. Editing these lines of code can remove restrictions, give users access to new features, change display density, or even boost performance—but root access is required in order to modify the file.
A set of specialized commands or tools that can be installed on a rooted device to give certain apps more functionality. Generally, a BusyBox installer app is used to add the commands to a rooted device.
The service provider for cellular data and services for a mobile phone or tablet. North American carriers include AT&T, Bell, Sprint, T-Mobile, Telus, and Verizon Wireless.
Short for code division multiple access. A mobile voice and data communications standard used by cellular carriers such as Sprint and Verizon. A competing standard to GSM (see below).
Abbreviated CWM, ClockworkMod was one of the first custom recoveries (see below) to be made available for a wide array of Android devices. Like all custom recoveries, ClockworkMod can be used to perform NANDroid backups (see below), apply third-party modifications to Android, or install a custom ROM (see below).
The code name for the first public version of Android (1.5). Released on April 27, 2009.
Third-party software that replaces the stock Android recovery menu, adding the ability to install modification packages (flashable ZIPs), create NANDroid backups (see below), and install custom ROMs (see below).
A version of Android made by independent developers to replace the existing operating system on a phone or tablet. Normally installed through custom recovery (see above), and generally includes several optimizations, as well as extra features.
Also Cyanogen, CM, CM 12.1, etc. One of the first Android custom ROMs (see above) to include support for a wide range of devices. Based on AOSP (see above), CyanogenMod includes several additional features and tweaking options.
The virtual machine library used from Android Cupcake (see above) to Android KitKat (see below). Dalvik was deprecated in favor of ART (see above) in 2014.
The code name for Android version 1.6. Initially released on September 15, 2009.
The code name for Android versions 2.0 through 2.1. Initially released on October 26, 2009.
To return a device's software to its initial state by deleting user settings and files. A factory reset can be performed in custom recovery (see above) or through Android's Settings menu.
A protocol used for sending commands from a computer to an Android device over a USB data connection while the device is in bootloader mode (see above). Fastboot is generally used to manually install firmware (see below) or to install a custom recovery (see above).
The base-level software installed on a device, up to and including the operating system. "Factory firmware" is used to describe the software that comes pre-installed on Android devices before any apps or modifications are added.
To install a custom ROM (see above) or flashable ZIP through custom recovery (see above), or to install a factory operating system image using either Fastboot (see above) or Odin (see below).
A term used to refer to an app suddenly closing, either as a result of a bug, or the user intentionally stopping the app through Android's "App Info" menu. Often abbreviated as FC.
The code name for Android versions 2.2 through 2.2.3. Initially released on May 20, 2010.
The code name for Android versions 2.3 through 2.3.7. Initially released on December 6, 2010.
A service that debuted with Android Jelly Bean (see below) that uses information gleaned from various sources throughout Android to predict the information users will want to see at a given time. Sometimes used to refer to Google's Voice Search feature.
Android's primary app store, where users can download and install software such as apps and games. The Google Play Store is also home to additional content, including movies, books, music, and TV shows. Generally referred to as simply "Play Store" or "Google Play."
Short for Global System for Mobile Communications. A mobile voice and data communications standard used by the vast majority of cellular carriers, generally distinguished from CDMA (see above) by its usage of SIM cards (see below).
Android's first unified interface design language, containing dark gradient backgrounds, light blue accent coloring, and tabbed app interfaces.
The code name for a tablet-specific release of Android (versions 3.0 through 3.2.6). Initially released on February 22, 2011.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Often abbreviated as ICS. The code name for Android versions 4.0 through 4.0.4. Initially released on October 18, 2011, Ice Cream Sandwich combined the previous phone-optimized versions of Android with the tablet-only Honeycomb release using a new UI design called Holo (see above).
Short for International Mobile Station Equipment Identity. A unique number assigned to all smartphones that is used by carriers to identify valid devices. If a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI gets flagged, which prevents the device from connecting to most cellular networks.
Short for in-plane switching. A technology used in LCD display panels that drastically increases the viewing angles.
The code name for Android versions 4.1 through 4.3.1. Initially released on July 9, 2012.
Base-level software in Android and other Linux-based systems that translates requests from apps into code that hardware such as the CPU can understand. A custom kernel can be installed by users to add functionality and bring additional hardware controls such as double-tap to wake.
The code name for Android versions 4.4 through 4.4.4. Initially released on October 31, 2013.
The home screen on Android devices, used to open and manage apps. The default launcher on any device can be replaced by simply installing a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store (see above).
The code name for Android versions 5.0 through 5.1.1. Initially released on November 12, 2014, Lollipop marked the abandonment of Android's previous Holo (see above) design language, and the introduction of its new Material Design (see below) interface.
The code name for the latest version of Android (6.0). Initially released on October 5, 2015.
Android's current interface design philosophy, replacing the previous Holo design (see above). Implemented in an attempt to unify app design with system menus.
Also referred to simply as Nandroid or nandroid. A snapshot of your device's entire software suite as it currently stands. NANDroid backups are created in custom recovery (see above) and can be restored in the event of any critical error to bring the device's software back to the exact state it was in when the backup was created.
A new feature of Android Marshmallow (see above) that scans your entire screen in any app to find keywords and give you relevant Google Search information about the topics it finds. Triggered by long-pressing the device's home button.
Short for Original equipment manufacturer. Used to refer to software, firmware (see above), hardware, or accessories that were created by a device's manufacturer.
Short for over the air. Term generally used in reference to a firmware (see above) update that is sent to your device wirelessly from your carrier (see above) or device manufacturer. If a device is rooted (see below), OTA updates will generally fail to apply.
Short for pixels per inch. A measurement used to determine the density of pixels in a display. Devices with a higher PPI number will generally have a more crisp, detailed screen.
Technically speaking, root is the topmost folder in a Linux-based device's file directory, where all operating system files are stored. As it pertains to Android, though, root refers to a user having access to the files in this directory, meaning they can modify these files with root-enabled apps to make changes to the operating system.
By default, Android devices do not provide root access, but workarounds are available that can grant root access to the user. Using such a workaround to gain access to the root directory is referred to as "rooting."
A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP (see above). Used by HTC in all of its devices.
Part of an Android app that does not provide a user interface, but can perform actions in the background even if the user switches to another app. Services are used by apps to silently update information such as notifications, or to maintain a data connection for the app.
The process of installing an app by downloading or transferring the APK file (see above) to your device, then launching it. This differs from the normal app installation method of using the Google Play Store (see above), but comes with the added benefit of being able to install apps that weren't approved by Google.
Short for subscriber identification module. A small electronic chip provided by your carrier (see above) that can be inserted in GSM (see above) phones to gain access to a cellular network.
Android's default media library, used to render videos, music, and photos. Recently, Stagefright became a well-known term due to a security flaw in the library that could potentially allow hackers to assume control of an Android device.
The process of using a smartphone's mobile data (see above) connection to provide internet access to other devices. Tethering is generally frowned upon by carriers (see above) since it can be used with computers, laptops, and other non-mobile devices.
A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP (see above). Used by Samsung in all of its devices.
Short for Team Win Recovery Project. A touch-based custom recovery (see above) that offers the ability to install modifications and custom ROMs (see above), as well as creating and restoring NANDroid backups (see above).