Understanding Google Android

Android is an operating system for mobile devices such as smartphones and more recently tablet computers.

It was originally developed by Android Inc which was acquired by Google in August 2005. A number of core employees of Android remained at the company at the acquisition, helping to integrate it into Google.

Android has built a large developer community writing applications ("apps") that extend the functionality of the devices, and can access base functions of devices, allowing for customisation of Android phones to a greater degree than the Apple iPhone. Developers write primarily in a customized version of Java. Apps can be downloaded from third-party sites or through online stores such as Google Play. 

The source code for Android is available under free and open source software licenses.

In early 2011, Google chose to withhold the Android source code to the tablet-only Honeycomb release, the reason, according to Andy Rubin in an official Android blog post, was because Honeycomb was rushed for production of the Motorola Xoom, and they did not want third parties creating a "really bad user experience" by attempting to put onto smartphones a version of Android intended for tablets. The source code was once again made available in November 2011 with the release of Android 4.0.

Microsoft has also sued several manufacturers of Android devices for patent infringement, and collects patent licensing fees from others. In October 2011 Microsoft said they had signed license agreements with ten Android device manufacturers, accounting for 55% of worldwide revenue for Android devices. These include Samsung and HTC.

There are a number of drawbacks of Android devices, primarily that since hardware is produced by a different number of companies, the user experience and performance of the operating system varies greatly from device to device. This is in contrast to the Apple business model, which ensures hardware consistency and thus a consistent and high level of performance from its devices.