For the past weeks you have been reading about the Ice Cream Sandwich, about Apple’s new iPhone and IOS or about Microsoft’s Mango frenzy but I never realized that some of our readers might not be that familiar with what a mobile operating system is.
In this article we will try to provide you with some basic knowledge over the mobile operating systems world. We will explain you first what a mobile operating system is and then go into details with an overview of Google’s Android.
What is a mobile operating system?
As per the definition a mobile operating system, abbreviated OS, is a complex layer acting between the hardware and the user, in order to facilitate the use of a particular device in order to perform simple and/or complex tasks.
First of all, we should start by mentioning the parts from which a mobile operating system is made of.
The kernel is the core element that provides the support necessary to access the various hardware components of a device. The main services offered by the kernel to the upper layers of the software stack are:
- hardware drivers
- device access and memory management
- file system
- process management
The middleware is the set of software modules that enable the existence of their own mobile applications. This software library is completely transparent to the end user and provides key services for applications such as:
- messaging engine
- internet websites / WAP access
- communications engine
- multimedia Codecs
- device Management
- OS security
Application Execution Environment.
This layer consists of a manager and a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) and accessible by programmers to facilitate the creation of applications. The User Interface This layer is the one that facilitates the creation of user interfaces for applications that facilitate the management of end user interaction design and visual presentation of the application (look and feel). The main services it provides to the application layer are:
- graphics: for example, screens, buttons, lists, etc..
- framework for interaction
An additional component is the mobile operating system’s native phone applications, which provide the main user interface of the phone: menus, marker numbers, inbox messages, browser, etc.
Now that we’ve explained you in a few paragraphs what a mobile operating system consists of, let’s go ahead with the main subject of this article which is Google’s Android operating system.
Android, the mobile operating system from Google.
Android is an operating system for a numerous of mobile devices. It was based initially on GNU / Linux and is developed by Google. The Android platform presentation was held on November 5, 2007 with the founding Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of 48 hardware companies, software and telecommunications committing to promote open standards for mobile devices.
Google’s Android platform enables the development of applications by third parties (other persons than Google), for which, developers need to write managed code in the Java programming language and control the devices through libraries developed or adapted by Google, that is, writing programs in C or other languages, or libraries using Google (compiled to native code for ARM).
However, this pattern of development is not officially supported by Google. The majority of the Android source code has been released under the Apache software license, a license free software and also open source.
The Android mobile operating system allows program applications in a variation of Java called Dalvik. The operating system provides all necessary interfaces to develop applications that access the phone features (such as GPS , calls, calendar, etc) in a very simple and well known programming language, Java.
This simplicity, together with the existence of free programming tools, make it one of the most important things of this operating system is the amount of available applications that extend almost limitless user experience.
One of the best features of this OS is that it is completely free. This means that the end user does not have to pay anything to the manufacturer for the integration of it in the phone. This feature makes it very popular among manufacturers and developers, as the costs to launch a phone or an application is very low .
Anybody can download the source code, inspect, compile, and even change it. This gives security to users, because something that is open to detect failures more quickly. Also the manufacturers can tailor better the Android operating system for each particular terminal.
Android is Google’s way to tackle the mobile operating system market, which means that these devices have an integrated feature to stay constantly connected to the Internet. Google applications that come preinstalled on each of the devices, allow you to access Google services in a highly integrated manner; also Google’s Market application lets you install third-party applications in a very simple way.
There are a number of main Android versions currently available today. In the order that they were launched these are: Android 1.5 code named Cupcake, Android 1.6 code named Donut, Android 2.1 code name Lightning, Android version 2.2 Froyo, Android Gingerbread or 2.3, the 3.0 Honeycomb, the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich number 4.0 and the future Android 5.0 rumored to be called Jelly Bean.
We will now talk about the features and improvements that some of the most important versions of Android brought to the table.
ANDROID 1.5 (CUPCAKE)
Due to major improvements in the third release of Android, April 2009, the number jumped directly to version 1.5. Based on Linux kernel 2.6.27, the most interesting were:
- a complete redesign of all the interface elements;
- animated transitions between screens;
- improvements in the speed of the camera;
- less time spent searching for GPS satellites, thanks to the possibility of using A-GPS;
- added the ability to copy and paste text and search for text within a web page;
- ability to customize the widgets displayed on the home screen;
- including on-screen keyboard, with support for portrait and landscape orientation, self-correction capabilities and user dictionaries support;
- added the ability to record and play videos
- Stereo Bluetooth support
ANDROID 1.6 (DONUT)
Launched in September 2009, is based on Linux Kernel 2.6.29. It is considered a minor update, but still manage to make some pretty interesting developments:
- Quick Search Box, a search box on the home screen that lets you search across sources (contacts, browser history, google, …). With completion and learning ability.
- improved the speed of the camera
- ability to connect to VPN, 802.1x
- new screen to control the battery, which allows you to check what applications and services are the most abused. From this screen you can also stop or uninstall these applications
- Android Market applications are now sorted by categories (Applications, Games and Downloads). For each category we can find the latest updates and most popular applications. Moreover, for each application now shows screenshots and reviews from other users
- new text to speech engine
ANDROID 2.X (ECLAIR)
In Android 2.0, November 2009, we continued with the tradition of using sweet pastry as codenames. The news came with:
- a redesigned browser interface, and now has support for various features of HTML5 (including the video tag), the ability to zoom by double-clicking thumbnails and bookmarks
- native support for the camera flash (apparently the manufacturers of wireless flash that had previously had to develop their own drivers to overcome this limitation)
- digital zoom, scene mode, white balance, color effects and macro mode
- improvements on the virtual keyboard
- support for new screen sizes and resolutions
- Quick Contacts
- Bluetooth 2.1
- native support for Facebook
- improvements to Google Maps, who became a multi-layered and support (Wikipedia)
- Microsoft Exchange Support
- improvements in the calendar
Android 2.1, which came to most Android phones in early January 2010, is also considered a minor update for some reason. Among other things, the update brings:
- voice recognition. Now you can dictate instead of typing in any text field)
- improvements on the virtual keyboard
- 3D Cover Flow gallery-style
- use of gesture to “pinch” to zoom in the browser, the gallery and Google Maps
- new applications for clock / weather and news
- improvements in Google Maps: timing of our favorite sites, night mode and auto complete searches
- Google Goggles
- improvements in battery life
ANDROID 2.3 (GINGERBREAD )
Released in early December 2010, the version features:
- Improved online video support;
- improved power management (and battery consumption);
- improved virtual keyboard, support for payment via NFC.
ANDROID 3.0/3.4 (HONEYCOMB)
This version of Android was released in January / May 2011 and among the features it included:
- Operating System optimized for tablets;
- has full multitasking functionality, being to switch between different applications in use, leaving the others waiting in a column visible;
- Flash and DivX support;
- apart from traditional private browsers Dolphin integrated;
- customizable home page widgets .
ANDROID Version 4.0 (ICE CREAM SANDWICH)
This version of Android will be released to the world in the fourth quarter of 2011, somewhere in October or November.
Among the features that it will bring, we can mention:
- it is designed for all platforms (smartphones, tablets and netbooks in all sizes);
- main display with 3D images;
- status bars and resizable widgets;
- Android face recognition unlock;
- better voice recognition;
- USB support for keyboards and PS3.
Hopefully this is an easy to understand introduction to what a mobile operating system is, with Google’s Android OS in particular. I hope that this article will not be too outdated over time, as the mobile operating system environment changes very fast.
Nevertheless, you can always visit our website to check if anything changed and to read the next parts that will cover the other mobile operating systems.