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Phones

Every Android version from the T-Mobile G1 to Android Pie

At 10 years old, Android runs on over 2 billion active devices. Here's how far Google's mobile OS has come and where it's heading next.

android-10-anniversary-use-1

Happy birthday, Android.

Betsy Lyon/CNET

It's been 10 years since Google launched the Android mobile OS and it's come a long way. This is especially compared to its early days when it struggled to convince the world that its friendly green extraterrestrial could make applesauce of the revolutionary iPhone.

In truth, Google's first Android phone, the HTC-made T-Mobile G1, wasn't much to look at when it debuted in 2008. The phone had a trough for a keyboard and its chin bizarrely jut outward. It also didn't help that barely anyone knew the HTC brand, and we weren't sure if this was the start of a single Google phone or an entire operating system. Still, the humble G1 -- with its ugly design and scarce amount of apps -- kicked off an Android avalanche just the same.

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Currently, Android and iOS both command the phone market (you can read CNET's history of iOS here). Android, however, is in a class of its own. In 2016, nine out of 10 smartphones ran Android and in 2017 Google announced that more than 2 billion devices ran the OS. It's not only the most popular mobile OS, but it surpassed Windows as the most popular OS, period.

But Android didn't reach these milestones by sitting around. Over the years, it went through significant makeovers. The most prominent was in 2015, when Google overhauled its design language and named it Material. Since that debut in Android 5.0 Lollipop, Material made the entire operating system feel like it fits together from top to bottom.

Android went from a quirky piece of software to a full-fledged operating system and powerful brand. Here's a look at the major breakthroughs for the operating system, from its small beginnings to its current ambitions in mobile domination.

Editors' note: This article was originally published Aug. 4, 2010, and is periodically updated to include new versions of Android.

The evolution of Android

Android version SDK release* Notable updates
1.0 G1 February 2008
  • GPS and Bluetooth (but not stereo Bluetooth)
  • Multitasking
  • Tight integration with Google services like Gmail, Google Maps (with Street View), and Google Calendar
  • Apps: Amazon MP3 Store; YouTube
  • Android Market (about 35 apps at launch)
  • No Microsoft Exchange Server; no camcorder
1.5 Cupcake April 2009
  • Universal search box (search had been limited to the Web)
  • Revamped Android Market: Browsing categories (Apps, Games, Downloads) and filters (Top Free, Top Paid, Just In)
  • Camera: Toggle between camera and video modes; integrated photo gallery and camera with bulk photo deleting
  • SDK expands support for gestures, voice-to-text
1.6 Donut September 2009
  • Virtual onscreen keyboard
  • Camcorder mode for recording (and watching) video
  • Stereo Bluetooth
  • Home screen widgets and folders
  • Copy/paste and search within the browser
  • Direct upload to YouTube and Picasa
2.0 Eclair October 2009
  • Multiple user accounts
  • Exchange support; universal email inbox
  • Quick Contact pop-up widget to launch communications with friends in the address book
  • Search saved SMS and MMS messages
  • Camera improvements include support for flash and digital zoom
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Keyboard improvements: Adaptive dictionary that includes contact names in suggestions
2.1 Eclair January 2010
  • Live wallpaper; five home screens
  • Speech-to-text added to any text field; microphone icon for voice dictation in emails, texts, and so on
2.2 Froyo May 2010
  • Speedier OS
  • USB tethering and hotspot support
  • Android Market update: Batch and automatic updates; installing apps to the SD card
  • Adobe Flash 10.1
  • File uploading in the browser
  • Improved Microsoft Exchange support: Security policies, global address lookup, calendar sync, remote wipe
  • Bluetooth support for voice dialing and contact sharing
2.3 Gingerbread December 2010
  • Redesigned copy/paste
  • WebM video compression support
  • NFC (near-field communication) support
  • Switch to front-facing camera from camera app
  • Virtual keyboard shortcuts
3.0 Honeycomb February 2011
  • 3D graphics support
  • Side-by-side browser tabs; private browsing
  • Dual-pane modes for address book, email
  • Redesigned UI includes program thumbnails
  • Video chatting with Google Talk
  • Full-screen-mode photo gallery
  • Bluetooth tethering
3.1-3.2.6 Honeycomb May 2011-February 2012
  • Support for peripherals like keyboards and game pads
  • Resizable widgets
  • "Pay as you go" support for 3G, 4G tablets
  • Various bug fixes and enhancements
4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich October 2011
  • Support for virtual buttons in addition to touch-sensitive buttons
  • Create folders by dragging apps on top of each other
  • A new app tray tab for thumbing through widgets
  • Calendar app now supports pinch-to-zoom
  • Gmail gets new design, offline search, swiping between conversations
  • New Chrome browser syncs with your bookmarks, saves pages offline, supports 16 browser tabs
  • More keyboard error correction, inline spell check
  • Customizable lock screen, launcher
  • Recent applications icon
  • Roboto typeface
  • New swipe/delete behavior
  • Improved voice integration and copy and paste
  • Face Unlock security feature
  • Data Usage tracking
  • Hide unwanted app icons
  • Shut down apps that are using background data
  • Native camera features include zero shutter lag, continuous focus, zoom while recording, taking a still photo while recording, panorama photos, time lapse settings, 1080p recording
  • Face detection in the camera integrated photo editor
  • New gallery layout, organized by location and person
  • Phone app lets you swipe between favorite friends with integrated visual voice mail
  • Speed up and slow down voice mails
  • Quick message sends canned response text message when you decline a call
  • Android Beam, an NFC feature for exchanging information between two phones by tapping them
  • Wi-Fi Direct support
4.1 Jelly Bean July 2012
  • Faster, smoother performance with "Project Butter"
  • Expandable notifications with greater interaction
  • Voice search access by swiping up from bottom of the screen
  • Voice actions engine replies to some queries
  • Google Now
  • Offline dictation
  • Default Chrome browser
  • Resizable app widgets
  • Android Beam support for transferring larger files, like photo and video
  • New filmstrip view of recent shots in the camera app
  • Applications update in Google Play with just the changed code
  • Sound search widget for music ID
  • Higher-resolution contact photos
  • Greater accessibility options
  • Expanded language support, especially for Arabic and Hebrew
  • Interface tweaks
4.2-4.3 Jelly Bean November 2012-October 2013
  • Lock screen widgets, and the ability to open the camera from the lock screen
  • Quick Settings in the notification menu to toggle Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and more
  • "Daydream" screensavers, which show time and other information when the screen is locked or device is docked
  • Multiple user accounts on tablets only
  • Support for wireless display (such as Miracast)
  • Accessibility features, including triple-tap to magnify the entire screen, pan and zoom with two fingers, speech output for blind users
  • Unified interface layout for all devices, with system bar at the top of the screen, and a home screen dock
  • More Actionable Notifications, which let you respond to the notification without opening the app
  • Bluetooth Low Energy support
  • Location tracking with Wi-Fi -- your device can track your location without turning on Wi-Fi
  • Support for 4K resolution phones
4.4 KitKat October 2013
  • Major design interface update, especially for new Nexus devices
  • Translucent status bar in the OS and in apps
  • New "immersive mode" where apps can hide navigation and status bars
  • The size of the operating system shrunk so it can run on lower-end devices with small amounts of RAM and internal storage
  • Wireless printing using Google Cloud Print
5.0 Lollipop October 2014
  • Completely redesigned UI called Material
  • Notifications on the lock screen and new pop-up alerts
  • Priority mode silences less important notifications
  • Multiple user accounts for both phones and tablets
  • New recent apps menu called Overview
  • Guest mode
  • Screen pinning
  • Battery Saver mode
  • Default device encryption
  • Smart lock unlocks devices with Bluetooth device or NFC tag
5.1 Lollipop March 2015
  • Join Wi-Fi networks and pair Bluetooth devices through Quick Settings menu
  • Support for multiple SIM cards
  • Device protection
  • Built-in Wi-Fi calling support
6.0 Marshmallow October 2015
  • Doze mode for better power efficiency
  • Built-in fingerprint reader and USB Type-C support
  • Automatic data backup and app restore
  • 4K display mode
  • Multi-window support
  • Double-tap power button to launch camera
7.0 Nougat August 2016
  • Screen zoom
  • Switching between apps
  • Clear All recent apps
  • Debut of Daydream VR platform
  • Picture-in-picture for Android TV
  • Redesigned notifications shade and Overview screen
7.1 Nougat October 2016
  • New emojis with different skin tones 
  • Native GIF support in keyboard 
  • Long-press apps for dynamic actions
8.0 Oreo August 2017
  • Project Treble enabled device makers to send Android updates more efficiently
  • Redesigned Quick Settings, Settings and Notifications
8.1 Oreo December 2017
  • First to have Android Go edition, a version of Android for low-tiered devices that required less memory
  • Light and dark themes
  • Battery indicator for connected Bluetooth devices
9.0 Pie August 2018
  • More messaging options within Notifications
  • Support for onscreen notches
  • Updated volume indicator
  • Gesture navigation
  • Android Dashboard to limit user time with apps
  • Wind Down to limit phone use before sleeping

Android 9.0 Pie

android-pie
Claudia Cruz/CNET

Google unveiled its latest version of Android, Pie, on March 2018. With the update came several features to curb phone addiction, including Dashboard (which let's you know how much time you're spending on your phone) and Wind Down to limit phone usage before going to sleep. Pie also offered support for gesture navigation and onscreen notches -- two features that inch it closer to 2017's iPhone X from Apple.

Pie isn't a massive shift for Android, but it does help make it more modern. It feels like a refreshed chapter for Google, one where more gadgets run on Android and they all work in harmony.

Android's future

Though Android has improved significantly since its unveiling, there's still room to be better. The major issue is its fragmentation problem, wherein many Android devices don't receive prompt software updates. As a result, users are on older versions of the OS and they can't access new features. With the launch of Project Treble in 2017 though, the company is working on changing that.

Another exciting development is Android phones featuring foldable screens. On Nov. 7, Samsung teased its forthcoming foldable phone and soon after, Google officially announced it is adding support for foldable devices to accommodate screen continuity.

In addition, Huawei confirmed it is developing a foldable phone too and a small startup is already selling its bendable Royole FlexPai in China that you can pre-order it in the US and UK.

Other ways Android can push further is consolidate its messaging apps, incorporate a more intuitive interface and innovate beyond phones. At this rate, however, Google's only just getting started -- so here's looking at the next 10 years.