Present in 2 billion smartphones in the world, Android is the most represented operating system in the mobile market. Launched in 2007 by Google, it is the result of an eponymous start-up acquired by the giant two years earlier. The first version of Android appeared on a phone in late 2008, the HTC G1, considered the first Android smartphone. Since then, the operating system has suffered from a recurring problem: the fragmentation of its versions. While in November 2021, nearly a quarter of smartphones were running Android 11, more than 26% still relied on Android 10, and 18.2% on Android Pie (9). Statistics set to evolve with the launch of Android 12.
Android in outline
Android is based on the Linux kernel, an operating system designed primarily for PCs. In the world of smartphones, Android is the basis for all other interfaces from phone manufacturers – except Apple which has its own OS. This basic version is called version stock. It is also only available on the Pixels, Google’s own models, which also gain exclusive options. Android is not only available on phones. A tablet version also exists – although it doesn’t really differ from what we can have on smartphones. Google has also diversified over the years by offering its operating system for connected watches (Wear OS, jointly developed with Samsung), Android Auto for cars and Android TV for smart TVs. For the case of Android 12, a 12L version (for “Large”) is expected in 2022 for tablets and folding smartphones.
The OS being developed by Google, smartphones based on Android include by default the applications created by the Mountain View firm, such as Gmail, Maps, the Play Store, Photos or even Chrome. Huawei is the only manufacturer to no longer have access to Google’s API (Application Programming Interface) since it was blacklisted by Donald Trump’s administration in May 2019. It must therefore compose without the services of Google (GMS, or Google Mobile Services).
Three versions of Android coexist. The first is the one we encounter on the vast majority of smartphones on the market. The second is called Android One. This is a variant without bloatware and which promises 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates. The third, Android Go is intended for smartphones equipped with 2 GB (or less) of RAM. It is neither more nor less than a light version of the OS. It is especially present on entry-level models. There is also a classic Android derivative for businesses. Android Enterprise makes it possible to manage its fleet of smartphones and has additional security shutters; phones that typically display an “Android Enterprise Recommended” badge. This is particularly the case at Motorola.
How the price table works
Main Android-based user interfaces
Not content with being the first manufacturer to adopt Android, HTC is also the first to have developed a user interface (Sense) specific to its smartphones. Since then, all manufacturers have offered one on their models, with varying degrees of success. Among the best known are:
Others exist, but really take more than one version stock Android than a real modified interface – which can please as well as displease. Asus with ZenUi or Sony with XperiaUI offer this style. The case of OxygenOS is quite special since it is reputed to be also quite close to the experience offered by Google on its Pixels. But the OS of OnePlus is still very different from an experience completely stock, like Asus for example.
New features introduced with Android 12
Android 12 is not likely to confuse its users. The main novelty of this 2021 edition of Android takes the name of Material You. It intends to offer extensive customization options, with a view to allowing the user to create an interface that resembles him. This involves a theme whose colors can adapt to the dominant color of the wallpaper. Redesigned widgets are also appearing. They adopt different shapes, more original than the traditional square or rectangular blocks.
The security and privacy section has also been completely revised and gives you full access to the permissions granted to your applications. In the same vein, when an app accesses your camera or your microphone, a green, orange or red dot appears in the upper right corner of the screen, to inform you. Thanks to a new menu, you can also access all the permissions granted to the applications installed on your smartphone, and read the last title to have accessed the camera or the microphone of the device, just to spare you bad surprises. Each time you open an application requiring your location, you can decide to deliver this data precisely or approximately. You can also choose to communicate it permanently or only each time the said application is opened.
This year Google is getting up to speed by offering scrolling screenshots. Samsung, among others, already offered it on One UI, but now the functionality is automatically integrated into Android 12. Concretely, when you make a screenshot, you have the option to capture more information by scrolling down. What to save you multiple captures.
If you’re a mobile gamer, Google has got you covered. When downloading a game, it is possible to play it even before its installation is complete. The smartphone downloads in priority the files necessary to launch the game, so that you can start your session without waiting too long. The rest will continue to download in the background. A feature already available on consoles and PCs, and still welcome on mobiles.
Pixel and Pixel 6 exclusives
With Android 12, Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro get exclusive features. Broadly speaking, this is everything that has to do with artificial intelligence. Options strongly supported by the Google processor, Tensor. Note that these features have arrived or will arrive on the company’s older models.
The first, and surely one of the most impressive, is instant translation, which does not require an Internet connection. The smartphone knows and recognizes 55 different languages and can therefore translate foreign language text on the fly. This applies to your written conversations, but also to listening to podcasts, with subtitles, or even to read signs or other texts present in everyday life.
Another exclusivity, that which allows you to make calls for you. A robotic voice takes care of the conversation and can make appointments for you or help you deal with telemarketers. Unfortunately, since this possibility was presented, it has never arrived with us and remains for the moment limited to the United States.
In terms of photography, the Pixels also benefit from preferential treatment. Two features are emerging with Android 12: the magic eraser and the long exposure. We have granted an article dedicated to the first mode. As for the second, its name is quite evocative since it allows to capture pictures with a long exposure quite easily. Exclusives which are however only half, since other manufacturers offer one or the other mode for a little while already. The correction of the blur of a face is also appearing on this year’s Pixels. The smartphone succeeds in making clear a head that would have been photographed blurry, during movement for example.