DEFINITION of 'Android Operating System'

The Android operating system is a mobile operating system developed by Google (GOOGL​) primarily for touchscreen devices, cell phones, and tablets. Its design allows users to manipulate mobile devices intuitively, with phone interactions that mirror common motions, such as pinching, swiping, and tapping. In addition to mobile devices, Google employs Android software in televisions, cars, and wristwatches, each fitted with unique user interfaces. 

BREAKING DOWN 'Android Operating System'

The Android operating system was first developed by Android, Inc., a software company located in Silicon Valley before Google acquired it in 2005. Investors and the electronics industry have questioned Google’s intentions in the mobile market since the acquisition. Soon thereafter, the company announced the operating system in 2007, with the first Android-powered device reaching the marketplace in 2008.

Software and application developers can use Android to develop mobile apps, which are sold through app stores, such as Google Play.

Because it is developed as a Google product, Android users are given the opportunity to link their mobile device to other Google products, such as cloud storage, email, and video services.

The Android source code is released in an open source format to help advance open standards across mobile devices. Despite being released as “open”, Android is still packaged with proprietary software when sold on handset devices.

The emergence of Android created a new rivalry between smartphone manufacturers, with Apple (AAPL) serving as Google's chief competitor. To some, this rivals the “cola wars” between Coca-Cola (KO) and Pepsi (PEP) over the past 30 years, where no clear loser has emerged. As of early 2017, Android was the most popular operating system for use on mobile devices, with over two billion active users.

The increased popularity of the system also led to a number of patent-related lawsuits, the latest coming from Oracle (ORCL), which claims Google unlawfully used Java APIs in developing Android software.

Drawbacks of 'Android Operating System' 

While Android offers users a viable alternative to other mobile operating systems, several limitations still remain. On the developer side, coding complex user experiences and interfaces are often more difficult and demand a greater reliance on Java than Objective-C. For users, the apps on the Android Market tend to have lower standards than comparable app stores. In other words, the apps have lower security profiles and make users more susceptible to a data breach. Meanwhile, Android's lack of voice-controlled assistant and dependence on advertising can be intrusive for some users. 

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