What Is the Android Operating System?

The Android operating system is a mobile operating system that was developed by Google (GOOGL​) to be primarily used for touchscreen devices, cell phones, and tablets. Its design lets users manipulate the mobile devices intuitively, with finger movements 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 of which is fitted with a unique user interface.

Understanding the 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 electronics industry analysts have questioned Google’s true intentions for entering the mobile market space, since that acquisition. But in any case, soon thereafter, Google announced the impending rollout of its first commercially available Android-powered device in 2007, although that product actually hit the marketplace in 2008.

Since then, software and application developers have been able to use Android technology to develop mobile apps, which are sold through app stores, such as Google Play. And 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 platforms, and video services.

[Important: According to research from security company Trend Micro, premium service abuse is the most common type of Android malware, where text messages are sent from infected phones to premium-rate telephone numbers with neither the knowledge nor the consent of the user.]

The Android source code is released in an open source format to help advance open standards across mobile devices. However, 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 competitive dynamic mirrors that of the “cola wars” between Coca-Cola (KO) and Pepsi (PEP) over the past 30 years, where no clear winner or loser has emerged. But 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 has also led to a number of patent-related lawsuits. The latest came from Oracle (ORCL), which claims Google unlawfully used Java APIs in developing its Android software.

Disadvantages of the 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 is an often difficult task that demands 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.

Key Takeaways

  • The Android operating system was developed by Google (GOOGL​) for use in all of its touchscreen devices, tablets, and cell phones.
  • This operating system was first developed by Android, Inc., a software company located in Silicon Valley before it was acquired by Google in 2005.
  • While the Android source code is released in an open source format to help advance open standards across mobile devices, it is still packaged with proprietary software when sold on handset devices.

In other words, the apps have lower security profiles and make users more susceptible to data breaches. Meanwhile, Android's lack of a voice-controlled assistant and its heavy dependence on advertising can repel some users.