In 2008, the smartphone world had already been turned on its head after Apple unveiled a mobile device without a physical keyboard a year earlier, a move infamously mocked by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive at the time.

The iPhone’s design was not original – remember the Palm devices and other personal digital assistants? But it was the first that was an actual smartphone and Apple was so confident it was the next big thing that the late Steve Jobs said the company had made sure its screen technology was patented.

At the time, apart from the second iPhone, the 3G, the most notable smartphones were the first Sony Xperia (X1), the BlackBerry Bold and Nokia’s XpressMusic, which was in its second year alongside its usual phalanx of devices.

Even Samsung Electronics, which would later become the world’s biggest mobile manufacturer, was trying to join the major smartphone league although – fun fact – the South Korean technology giant had launched a device without a keyboard, the Palm OS-powered SPH-i300, in 2001.

However, in the line up of hand-held devices of the era, one phone stood out – the HTC Dream. Known also as the T-Mobile G1 in the US and parts of Europe, it was powered by a new mobile operating system from Google, called Android.

It was the new challenger to operating systems such as Nokia’s Symbian, BlackBerry’s OS, Windows’s Mobile, everything Linux-based and what would become its main rival, Apple’s iOS.

Since 2019, Android versions have simply been known as integers. Of course, old tech heads know it had sweeter beginnings.

April 27 marks the 15th year of the Android Cupcake. Emerging in 2009, it stands as the bedrock on which the foundation for the world’s most-used mobile operating system is built.

Android commands about 71 per cent of the global market as of March 2024, comfortably ahead of iOS’s 28.5 per cent, data from StatCounter shows.

“Google’s mission is to establish Android as an open-source OS freely available to all, and this will continue to be our driving force … for our future developments,” Yacine Zerkdi, the tech company’s Android chief for the Middle East, tells The National.

“Android Cupcake is a true milestone for us for many reasons.”

It all began with Android, the company

Before the Android OS was the company: Google’s California neighbour, Android Inc. The Palo Alto-based company began in 2003 with a mission to develop an OS for a camera system before pivoting to focus on mobile devices in 2004 (the same year Google “pranked” us all with Gmail).

Gmail at 20: How Google Redefined Email Communication

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The most notable executive of Android Inc was one of its founders, Andy Rubin, who previously worked as an engineer at German imaging company Carl Zeiss and Apple, where it is said he got his idea for the name “Android”.

He would eventually work as a senior vice president at Google from 2005 to 2014, mostly overseeing the development of Android.

The next year, 2005, Google bought Android Inc for a reported $50 million – about $80 million in 2024 dollars, making it a steal compared with the $12.5 billion Google paid for Motorola Mobility in 2011.

It is unclear what Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were thinking when they acquired Android the company. Reports say they had their own aspirations and vision for mobile devices, but Google focused on developing Android for personal computers.

In 2007, Google led the foundation of the Open Handset Alliance, which aimed to promote Android as an open source software and – critically – free OS. Among the earliest members to sign up were Samsung, LG, Intel and Nvidia.

Google had an enticing pitch: Use Android and take advantage of its growing ecosystem, which at the time included the early versions of Google Earth and Google Docs, among others – all at the touch of your finger.

‘Dream’ comes true

Users finally got to sample what Android was all about in the HTC Dream – although, in line with the times, it is a far cry from what we are used to on our screens nowadays.

ANDROID VERSION NAMES, IN ORDER

Android Alpha

Android Beta

Android Cupcake

Android Donut

Android Eclair

Android Froyo

Android Gingerbread

Android Honeycomb

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Android Jelly Bean

Android KitKat

Android Lollipop

Android Marshmallow

Android Nougat

Android Oreo

Android Pie

Android 10 (Quince Tart*)

Android 11 (Red Velvet Cake*)

Android 12 (Snow Cone*)

Android 13 (Tiramisu*)

Android 14 (Upside Down Cake*)

Android 15 (Vanilla Ice Cream*)

* internal codenames

Android 1.0 – code-named Alpha – was released in September 2008 and would eventually be used on the Dream in the following month. It featured Google Maps and Gmail integration, and at times painfully needed physical keys to perform certain functions.

Android 1.1 – Beta – was introduced on February 9, 2009, and mostly fixed issues that plagued its predecessor. Judging by the naming convention, you would be forgiven if they used the next letter in the Greek alphabet, Gamma, or maybe continued on using the phonetic alphabet, which in this case should have been Charlie. A foreshadowing of Google’s restructuring to Alphabet in 2015?

Alpha and Beta were code-named Astro Boy and Bender, respectively, and some quarters called them Apple Pie and Banana Bread, just for fun.

Then Google dropped a sugar bomb: The next version of Android, 1.5, was named Cupcake, and, once again, it was another HTC device, the Magic, on which the OS made its debut.

That triggered a run of sweet times for users and developers, spawning guessing games and even brand tie-ups, which cemented its popularity and eventual dominance.

Subsequent versions of Android would be named Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, Nougat, Oreo and Pie.

The KitKat and Oreo versions were particularly fun and hyped, with custom products and loads of internet fodder.

But Cupcake is not just recognised for its name; it also introduced some key Android features that would pave the way for subsequent, important updates.

The tangle with Apple

Probably the most critical feature of Cupcake was its text prediction and custom word support for virtual keyboards, including custom words from third-parties, steering away from the HTC Dream’s physical keyboard.

It was “a soft keyboard for more efficient communication”, Mr Zerkdi says.

That also set the stage for buttonless smartphones and positioned Google to directly tangle with Apple, which, by this time in 2009, was only weeks away from launching the third iPhone, the 3GS.

In addition, Cupcake introduced shortcuts and widgets, and allowed users to customise their home screens. It also unveiled a faster web browser that would now also support copy-paste features.

On the multimedia side, Cupcake added auto-pairing and stereo support for Bluetooth, video recording, support for MPEG-4 and 3GP video formats, as well as the ability to directly upload videos to YouTube, which was four years old at the time, having been acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in 2006 – another steal for the company.

Other notable Cupcake features included favourite contacts with pictures, date and time stamps in its call log and, just for fun, animated screen transitions.

It would also lay the groundwork for a significant gaming experience on mobile, which is a lucrative market today with hundreds of millions of users globally.

“Because of the widespread availability and affordability of smartphones, mobile gaming has enhanced gaming accessibility for all by incorporating customisable controls, subtitles and adjustable difficulty settings,” Adveta Dwivedi, head of marketing at Dubai-based GameCentric, tells The National.

“This ensures that people of diverse ages and backgrounds can conveniently enjoy gaming anytime and anywhere on their mobile devices.”

Bittersweet end?

Eventually, Google stopped using sugar bombs after Android Pie, simply naming 2019’s version as Android 10, because the company felt they might not be inclusive internationally.

Cupcake’s end, on the other hand, came on June 30, 2017, when Google officially stopped market support for the iconic version.’

In addition, there were no mainstream sweets starting with Q, but according to Dave Burke, vice president of Android, his personal choice would have been Queen Cake, which is from the UK.

It is reported that Android 10 was internally code-named Quince Tart, after the Greek dish, showing versions that officially used numbers still received their “sweet” internal codenames.

It was Red Velvet Cake for 11, Snow Cone for 12, Tiramisu for 13, Upside Down Cake for 14 and Vanilla Ice Cream for 15, which is expected to be released in the third quarter of 2024.

The alphabetical order leaves us with W, X, Y and Z. Off the top of the head, we would like to think they would be Waffle, Xuixo (from Spain), Yogurt and Zebra Cake.

Maybe it’s best to start the guessing games now.

Updated: April 27, 2024, 3:00 AM

ANDROID VERSION NAMES, IN ORDER

Android Alpha

Android Beta

Android Cupcake

Android Donut

Android Eclair

Android Froyo

Android Gingerbread

Android Honeycomb

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Android Jelly Bean

Android KitKat

Android Lollipop

Android Marshmallow

Android Nougat

Android Oreo

Android Pie

Android 10 (Quince Tart*)

Android 11 (Red Velvet Cake*)

Android 12 (Snow Cone*)

Android 13 (Tiramisu*)

Android 14 (Upside Down Cake*)

Android 15 (Vanilla Ice Cream*)

* internal codenames

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