Remember when a new mobile operating system took its first steps
The T-Mobile G1 / HTC dream
I remember the day well because I was there. New York, Tuesday, September 23, 2008. Executives from HTC, Google, T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom took the stage to present Android 1.0, a brand new mobile operating system, and the G1, the first smartphone to run the platform. -form. It was clear that those involved had a vision for Android.
Company representatives spent a lot of time talking about the opening of the new platform and made a point of encouraging third parties to develop apps for Android. They said, “We want to provide a range of new devices, applications and services for people to adopt mobile internet all over the world.”
Google’s co-CEOs were clearly in love with the new platform and talked about its potential.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-CEOs of Google at the time, showed up on inline skates. Self-proclaimed geek Brin introduced the first app he wrote for Android, which calculated how long the G1 was in the air when launched up and down. The two were clearly in love with the new platform and spoke about its potential.
But what did Android 1.0 look like? What characteristics did he have? What features was it missing? The platform was surprisingly complete and incomplete at the same time. On his birthday, here’s what we remember about Android’s first steps in the world.
Android 1.0: a familiar but different experience
There were many mobile operating systems competing in the fall of 2008. Apple’s iOS was only one year old at that time and was lagging behind industry leaders BlackBerry OS and Symbian in terms of scale. Windows Mobile and Palm OS were also there. Google and its Android developers have selected certain elements of Android on established platforms, but also introduced a series of new ideas that are still a part of Android.
Android 1.0 had three home screen panels. The center panel was the main home screen that contained the preloaded apps and widgets. You can swipe your finger left or right to add more apps / widgets to other screens if you want, which you can still do with Android today. Android’s implementation of widgets was pretty new back then. While the platforms of the time, such as Windows Mobile Touch, included widgets, they weren’t as customizable or as varied as on Android.
Android’s implementation of widgets was pretty new back then.
Android 1.0 included an app drawer. It was accessed by tapping on a real, visible tab that appeared at the bottom of the home screen. The basic functionality, however, is the same as it is today. Android 1.0’s settings menu was laid out in a way that looks like what we have in modern Android, but the quick settings menu didn’t exist yet. iOS 2, which was what 2008 iPhones ran, didn’t have an app drawer, but Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices had the equivalent.
The platform was hardware-centric. People who have been using Android since the early days will remember all the buttons for controlling the OS. Vital keys such as back, home and menu buttons were needed to perform some navigation and secondary actions. There wasn’t even a software keyboard; the G1 required you to use the physical QWERTY keyboard for all sort of text entry. Now, of course, the platform is fully tactile, and gestures perform those same actions. Of all the platforms available in 2008, only the iPhone was fully tactile. BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows all relied heavily on physical buttons.
The management of notifications by Android 1.0 was a first victory for the platform.
The management of notifications by Android 1.0 was a first victory for the platform and on which we still count today. The way notifications briefly appeared in the status bar then influenced other mobile platforms to follow suit.
Security? You can set a traceable pattern on the lock screen, which Android still allows you to do to this day.
Before “there is an app for that”
Apple introduced the App Store with iOS 2 in July 2008, just before Android’s debut. Back then, centralized app stores on the device were scarce. Most of the day’s apps were available direct from the manufacturer or from sketchy online distributors. Fortunately, Google followed Apple’s model.
The first Android 1.0 apps were rudimentary but functional. Google’s Gmail, Calendar, Calculator, Maps and YouTube were among the first available. Third-party apps were available on Android Market, the original version of the Google Play Store. Android Market 1.0 was a crazy basic. There were hardly any apps yet and it was mostly a text-based experience with few images or graphics.
The first Android 1.0 apps were rudimentary but functional.
Critically, Gmail of the day supported push, IMAP / POP, and SMTP, giving it an edge over email on some platforms. YouTube, on the other hand, was a pain because the 3G networks of the time just weren’t able to handle video yet. The browser wasn’t even called Chrome. It was based on WebKit, but initially lacked Flash support.
The camera app was not at all impressive. For example, every time you took a photo, you were presented with a pop-up asking if you wanted to save, set, share or delete the photo. Everytime. Specifically, the camera app had no real functionality and could not record video.
Google Maps was the highlight of the show. Although Google Maps is available on other platforms, such as BlackBerry OS, Maps for Android was a big step forward. It included Street View, the ability to see an actual view of your potential destination. It also supported panning so you can spot landmarks before you start your journey.
Preparing the ground for the future of Android
There is no doubt that Android 1.0 was powerful from the start. He gathered a bunch of ideas under one banner and made some bold promises as he walked out the door. But it was far from a certainty. At the time, only T-Mobile in the United States offered the G1. The G1 did not reach other markets until early 2009. Android devices did not sell in high volumes, in general, until Verizon Wireless launched the Motorola Droid in the fall of 2009, a year after the launch of the platform. And at that time, we were on Android 2.0.
But those early days were important in building the foundation for Android. Google was quick to talk about future versions of the platform, including Cupcake and Donut, which the company said would add features and fix bugs over time. This helped create anticipation and encouraged adoption. Additionally, Android quickly fell in favor of the developer and modding communities because it was open in a way that BlackBerry OS, iOS, PalmOS, and Symbian just weren’t.
It’s been a long journey, but on the eve of Android 12’s release we wouldn’t want it to be any different.