There are Android phones, Android tablets and Android smartwatches, and you’ll even find Android inside some cars and TV set-top boxes. But what is Android, and what can you do with it? Read on to become an instant expert.
Android is Google’s software for mobile phones, tablets and a growing range of devices encompassing everything from wearable computing to in-car entertainment. It’s been in development since 2003, and today it’s the world’s most popular mobile operating system (OS).
As an OS, Android's job is to act as a translator between you and your gadget. When you take a photo, Android provides the button you tap and tells the phone what to do when you tap it. When you make or receive a call, Android tells your phone how to do that. When you play a game, Android tells the game what movements you’re making and what buttons you’re pressing. It’s like Windows, but for mobile devices.
The Android software itself is developed by Google, who releases major updates to the platform every year. Manufacturers which run Android on their phones include Samsung, Huawei, Sony, Lenovo, HTC, LG and many others; it's currently operational on more than one billion devices.
The Android mascot is a green robot: you might have seen it around.
Where does Android come from?
It comes from Google, who actually acquired Android in 2005 (no, Google didn't invent it). Android is based on the Linux kernel, which, if you have friends who work in IT, you might have been told about before.
What is the difference between Android and iPhone?
It’s not so much a difference between Android and iPhone but Android and iOS. You see, iOS is the software which runs on iPhones and the differences between this and Android are simultaneously big and small.
Smartphones with Android or iOS installed are capable of doing most of the same things: they can both run apps, connect to Wi-Fi, take photos, send messages etc. But there are many differences in how they look and feel, and the possibilities of both.
Android doesn't look different on every device, but it does have a number of different versions. Android is open-source, which means that manufacturers are free to customize the software and make it their own.
The "purest" version of Android is often referred to as "stock Android" and it's often preferred by the Android community: it's the original software as Google intended.
Other user interfaces include Samsung's TouchWiz, Sony's Xperia, and Huawei's Emotion. See what they all look like in our Android UI comparison.
What does Android offer that other OSes don’t?
Choice. For example, if you want iOS, you have a choice of iPhone, iPhone or iPhone. If you go for Android there are stacks of great devices to choose from, from cheap and cheerful handsets to really impressive flagships. Those flagships are often cheaper than the equivalent Apple devices, too.
Android’s choice isn’t just about hardware. It’s about everything else too. Android is incredibly easy to customize, both in terms of how it looks and how it works, and the various app stores aren’t as tightly controlled as its rivals’ stores, like Apple.
What’s with the candy names?
Each new version of Android gets a code name based on consecutive letters of the alphabet. The most recent version is known as Marshmallow because it is the Android M release. Previous versions have included FroYo (short for frozen yogurt) and Gingerbread. You can read more about Android's history at the link below.
Rooting it. If you root an Android device you can get into its most secret places and change anything you like. The possibilities are endless, and we’ve put together a beginners’ guide to rooting to get you started.
What’s the worst thing about Android?
Getting updates. In many cases manufacturers don’t seem to care about providing software updates for devices they’ve already sold you, and even when they do provide the updates they can take their sweet time about it. That’s one more reason to consider rooting: you can download the updates yourself and apply them instead of waiting for the manufacturer to get around to it.
What is Google Play / Play Store?
The Google Play Store is a digital marketplace where Android users can purchase apps, games, books, movies, music and more.
The purchased content is connected to your Google account – something you must have in order to make these purchases – and will thus be available on any device where you log in with your Google account.
What is an Android APK?
APK is short for Android Application Package (yes, we realize the letters don't match up), and it’s the file format Android uses for software downloads. If you’re sideloading Android apps, which means copying them across from a computer rather than installing them directly from the Google Play Store, you’ll need the APK file.
When you install an app from the Play Store, you're installing the same APK, one method simply lets the Play Store handle it, the other lets you do it.
What is Android TV?
Android TV is Google’s attempt to make existing TVs into smart ones. It’s tried that before with limited success, but now there is a range of devices that bring Google Play entertainment to your lounge room. Android TV isn’t the same as Chromecast, which is a device that you can stream TV programs to via the Chrome web browser.
What is Android Wear?
Android Wear is a version of Android designed for wearable devices such as smartwatches, and it powers smartwatches like the Motorola Moto 360, Samsung Gear S2 and more.
What else do you want to know about Android? Do you have any essential information we missed?