Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
Happy 15-year anniversary, Android! It hasn’t been an easy start to the journey, but you have evolved so much over the years and look at you now! More than 2 billion people use you every day and rely on you to communicate with loved ones, search for answers, read the web, pay for goods, take photos and videos, and more.
Sadly, though, if I take a trip down memory lane and look back at that fateful September 2008 launch, I’m not sure I was optimistic about Google’s endeavor. Android 1.0 and the T-Mobile G1 (also known as T-Mobile Dream) were nothing more than a blip on my personal radar, not because I wasn’t interested in mobile tech. Quite the contrary. I was already writing about mobile phones and tech back then, but my drug of choice was Nokia and its Symbian operating system.
15 years ago, Android 1.0 didn’t hold a candle to my all-powerful Nokia N82 and E71.
At the time, I had a Nokia N82 with a 5MP camera and Xenon flash in one hand, and a Nokia E71 with a full QWERTY keyboard in the other hand. Impressive built quality, long battery life, exceptional camera performance, and cool smartphone software features were already part of my daily life.
I could copy and paste text and links, partially customize my home screen, record video, transfer anything over Bluetooth to another phone or computer, download apps from the Ovi Store, use Google Maps or Nokia Maps for directions, and sync my email with Nokia Messaging. I was using Nimbuzz and Fring to chat over Google Talk and Skype with my friends. And if I wanted, I could connect a 3.5mm headphone and listen to FM radio, without streaming anything over my restricted 2G connection.
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
You can imagine then that both Apple and Google’s endeavors with the first iPhone and T-Mobile G1 didn’t impress me much. My smartphones were years ahead — save for one feature: touch. And although I wanted that, I didn’t want it badly enough to let go of the comforts of my Symbian ecosystem.
Android, however, caught my eye more than iOS. It was open, more customizable, and ahead of iOS on several fronts. It offered an excellent notification system and already had multitasking baked in. Since I was used to hopping in and out of apps on my Nokia phones, this was a non-negotiable feature for me. iOS lost my interest there.
Google’s aura as the leader of Android was unmistakeable, even in 2008. I knew this is where I would eventually land.
Google’s aura as the leader of the Open Handset Alliance and the mind behind stock Android was incredibly appealing too. This was the company at the forefront of the internet and it had money, power, and influence in the US. It was bound to break the mold and carve a way forward with its software. Better yet, bulldoze its way through.
Android 1.0 was unremarkably barebones, but the allure of the company behind Google Search, Chrome, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube building a smartphone platform didn’t escape me. In my heart, I knew that this was where I would end up after switching away from Nokia.
And sure enough, it didn’t take long for the cracks to show up in Nokia’s mobile strategy. The Finnish company that held most of the mobile market in its hands suddenly didn’t know what to do anymore. Or how to fight back and stay relevant in front of Apple and Google’s onslaught. Year by year, release by release, Android eroded the few flaws that kept it behind Symbian, all while adding more and more features. Multi-touch for pinch-to-zoom, a good on-screen keyboard, a better Android Market, all-around improvements to the calendar, contacts, browsing, cameras, and more quickly came in while Nokia got stuck building Symbian for touch from scratch. It was a laggy, outdated experience.
The last straw was when I started seeing more apps pop up on Android while Symbian flailed behind.
Soon, every new service was launching its app on iOS and Android first. Or only. Symbian and its early 2000s nemesis Blackberry OS didn’t factor in many new startups’ plans. It was a miracle that it got native WhatsApp and Spotify apps. As a pharmacist, doing hospital internships and then specializing in molecular biology research, I was heartbroken to see medical apps pop up for Android. Dictionaries, diagnostics tools, pharmacology references — everything I struggled to access on Symbian (by converting bought eBooks to PRC and opening them on MobiPocket) was more easily and readily available on Android.
That was the last straw. In the fall of 2010, I bought a cheap second-hand Samsung Galaxy 5 — yes, 5, not S, that’s not a typo — as a secondary phone to test the waters and see if I was ready to commit to the switch. The display was small, the camera horrible, the performance middling, but I had access to all the cool things I couldn’t access on my Nokia N8. A couple of months later, I bought the HTC Desire Z and that was it. I was firmly in the Android ecosystem and I haven’t switched since. I did test a lot of other platforms, but Android phones have always been my daily driver.
15 years later, the gap between Android and iOS is closing down, but there’s a lot keeping me on Google’s side.
15 years later, we’re a few weeks away from the launch of Android 14, the 19th major platform release. The gap between Android and iOS keeps closing, and the reasons that compelled me to pick Google’s OS over Apple seem to be dissipating. Yet, even today, as I sit and write this on an iMac (proof that I’m no Apple hater, ha!), with news of everyone getting their shiny new iPhone 15 with USB-C charging, I am tempted, more tempted than ever, perhaps. But the thought of using iOS’s terrible notifications, painful keyboard experience (no, Gboard on iOS isn’t even close), fiddly and inconsistent back gesture, confusing share interface, and below-par Chrome keeps me firmly in the Android camp.
I also find it funny that the one feature that I never thought Android/Google would catch up on Symbian/Nokia with — photography — is the one that keeps bringing me delight every day on my Pixel 7 Pro. The best camera phones run Android now, who would’ve believed that in 2012, when Nokia released its 41MP 808 Pureview while Samsung was scrambling with a very bad 8MP camera on the Galaxy S3?
Here’s to 15 more years of Android, with more consistency (hopefully), delight, and features to make our everyday lives better!
Image credits: The balloons in the image above were taken from macrovector on Freepik.