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The Android era: From G1 to Lollipop

Android 5.0 Lollipop brings a brand new design to Android and updated features. CNET weighs in on how far the Android OS has come and where it's going next.

Mari Benitez/CNET

Google has come a long way since the 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 October 2008, with its trough for a keyboard and its bizarrely jutting chin. HTC was hardly a known brand, and we weren't even sure if we were getting a single Google phone or an entire operating system. Still the humble G1, with its ugly design and few apps, kicked off an Android avalanche just the same.

Now in 2014, Android and iOS both command the smartphone market (CNET's Jason Parker outlines the history of iOS here). And both operating systems have received significant makeovers in recent years, with iOS 7 and now Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new version, brings a fresh design called Material that most importantly makes the entire operating system feel like it fits together from top to bottom.

Android is now more than six years old, and in that time it's gone from a quirky piece of mobile software to a full-fledged operating system and powerful brand. Here's a look at the major milestones in Google's Android operating system, from its humble beginnings to its current ambitions in smartphone and tablet domination.

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 cameraIntegrated 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

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Google's latest version of Android, Lollipop, was unveiled in October 2014 and gave Android the biggest makeover it's gotten in years. Not only that, it updates many of the existing well-loved features to make them just a bit more useful and smarter. Notifications are more accessible and easier to shut off when you want some peace. Sharing one phone or tablet with your kids or spouse is now much easier. Lollipop also brought tweaks to battery life, the recent apps menu and device security.

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

Android's future

At the time of this update, we've just begun to see Lollipop in the world, starting with Nexus devices. Time will tell how the update will look and behave on phones and tablets from LG, HTC, Sony, Samsung and others, but early clues show that Material will shine in most places and the standout features of Lollipop will carry over just fine.

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