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Platform / Android
aka: Android Games

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Android's current logo.

Be together. Not the same.

Android is a free, open-source, Linux-based operating system developed largely by Google. The first commercially released Android-based device, the HTC Dream, was released in September 2008. While it's primarily intended for smartphones, it's been used in just anything you can think of — including tablets, cameras, laptops, cars, house appliances, game consoles, MP3 players, and even dumbphones. It is the most widely used operating system in the world, beating out even Microsoft Windows. Odds are pretty decent that you're reading this page on Android (specifically Samsung's iteration).

For smartphones and tablets, it's the main (and really only, following the death of Windows Phone) rival to Apple's iOS.note  The primary differentiator, and Android's main selling point, is in its customizability and choice— iOS is extremely locked down, officially only allows for downloading apps from their official App Store, and can only be used on Apple's iPhone and iPad line of devices. Meanwhile, Android is highly customizable, allows for downloading and installing of any application that can be found online, regardless of jank or even legality, and freely available (with caveats) to any device manufacturer that wants to use it. Many Android devices even let you unlock the bootloadernote  and swap out the operating system entirely. And it's able to enable all of this and still remain snappy, polished, and intuitive enough for your grandmother to comfortably use.

While Google does produce their own phones under the "Google Pixel" line (and prior to that, collaborated with various other manufacturers on the "Nexus" devices) the most popular Android manufacturer by far is Samsung, whose "Galaxy" phones often go toe-to-toe with Apple's iPhone in sales, features and popularity. Other popular manufacturers currently include, but are not limited to, BBK (OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo, Realme, iQOO), Xiaomi, ASUS, Sony, HMD Global (Nokia), Motorola, Huawei, and Transsion (Infinix, Tecno, Itel).

So, if anybody can use it completely for free, what does Google gain from it? Well, as stated, while they do make their own Android devices, the vast majority of Android profit (which was reported as of 2016 to have been $22 billion) comes from heavy integration with Google's own services. Almost every Android device on the market (outside of the ones sold in China, due to Google being banned there, and those that use custom, Android-forked, operating systems as LineageOS (see further down) where its installation is often optional) comes pre-installed with Google Mobile Services (GMS), a closed-source collection of APIs and applications that includes Google Play, Android's main app store. Given that many, many Android applications are built off of these APIs and how many people use the Google Play app store, it is extremely undesirable for any device manufacturer to not include them.

As such, Google is able to use GMS access as effectively a carrot-on-a-stick to strong-arm the device manufacturers into following some fairly strict rules and guidelines, in spite of the OS being open-source. Most prominently, this includes not being allowed to fork Android into its own project. While this can be worked around by users (and, as stated above, it isn't really relevant in China) it's still a big enough deal that Google being barred from doing business with Huawei by the US government effectively destroyed their growing smartphone business from doing well anywhere outside of their home country of China. (Amazon is still able to find some success with their non-GMS line of Amazon Fire tablets, but that's mainly due to their dirt cheap prices.) Unsurprisingly, these tactics by Google are very controversial, with some arguing that it means Android isn't a true open-source platform. Google does also occasionally get hit with an anti-trust lawsuit over it. That said, some defenders of this practice argue that given how easily open-source projects can turn into fractured, confusing messes, Google needs to have some way of maintaining leverage and shepherding manufacturers.

And Android's openness is a weakness as often as it is a strength. App piracy and hacking is a widespread problem, for one thing, which leads to Android being a less profitable (and harder to develop for) platform than iOS, despite the latter having a much smaller overall market share. And long-term support for devices is usually rather dire — device manufacturers (including Google) usually provide about three years of updates with maybe an extra year of security updates over that if you're really lucky, and some manufacturers provide effectively no support or updates at all once a device hits store shelves. And outside of Google's own Pixel phones, these updates can take a very long time to come out — by the time a phone gets updated to the latest major Android release, the next one might be just around the corner. Plus, while manufacturers may be discouraged from forking Android, they are freely allowed to add their own custom skins and launchers. These can vary wildly in quality — though moreso in Android's early days — which has sometimes harmed Android's overall brand and reputation. Razor-thin profit margins also incentivize vendors to preload apps that push ads incessantly, to the point that even hardcore Android fans might be reluctant to recommend Android for their own less tech-oriented family who can't disable the ads.

In an attempt to improve the availability of updates and overall security, Google incrementally takes out pieces that were originally part of the core system and makes them updateable through Play Store instead of having the vendor test and build them (which they're not incentivized to do since from their point of view they already got all the money they can from the device purchase). Eventually, even the Linux kernel would be updateable directly from Play Store without building an entire new ROM, like how it goes in the PC world, which would be a massive improvement compared to the current situation where even flagship phones come with years-old kernels that will soon become out of support. For comparison, iOS devices easily get more than eight years of updates, eclipsing the bare minimum of two years of updates mandated by Google.

Accepting that vendors will try to sell hardware with as low possible specs as they can get away with, Google maintains an optimized variant, Android Go, which takes out some of the fancier features (live wallpaper, split screen) in return for better performance with tiny RAM (lower than the full Android minimum RAM requirement, effectively incentivizing vendors to use the newer Android version instead of keep selling unsupported models) and promotes "Lite" apps in the Play Store that takes less resource to run. Initially Android Go got a bad rep because while the OS itself is less resource-hungry, most apps still aren't optimized, or take the easy way of just packaging what is basically a shortcut to the web app as the Lite version, sometimes performing even worse than the native version. Currently, due to the plateau of app resource requirements outside games, even rock-bottom Android Go devices actually perform well enough with general non-gaming apps, and some vendors, including Nokia and Samsung deliberately pick Android Go for their low-end models even though it's eligible for the "full" Android, since it means they can stuff more preloaded apps that made them a little extra money.

The Fandom Rivalry between iOS and Android is a highly intense one, and sometimes — subtly or not — affects how people view each other. Android users are often characterized as obnoxious, lame cheapskates, and "green texts" — meaning messages on an iPhone that are sent with SMS instead of the blue-colored messages of Apple's proprietary, iOS-only iMessage system — are looked down upon so much that a study found that on the dating app Tinder, using iPhone over Android makes you 75% more likely to get a date. Of course, Android users sometimes tend to stereotype iPhone users as hipster sheep who only care about mindlessly buying whatever new product Apple has. It's safe to say that both stereotypes have little basis in reality. This overall thought process has a basis both in general classism (since Android tends to be associated more with cheap devices, even if there are plenty of four-digit flagships there too) and arguably, to some extent, media. Since Apple hands out Apple devices for free to any production that requires them (hence the Everyone Owns a Mac trope), but forbids them being used by any villains, it means that Androids are associated with evil characters so often that it can be a spoiler for the observant.

Regardless of any controversies or weird user stereotypes, Android remains a hugely prolific, popular operating system, and its dominance is unlikely to change anytime soon. A popular fork of it, LineageOS, can be downloaded here and used on many different platforms — including x86 desktops and laptops. On supported devices released more than 2 years ago (the mandatory update period as defined by Google), LineageOS might be the only way to keep up with OS security or even OS upgrades (most devices only get one official Android version upgrade from their vendor, if at all). Windows 11 also includes support for Android applications, with the Amazon Appstore being accessible through the Microsoft Store.

Mostly unrelated to fellow Google-made and Linux-based operating system ChromeOS, though it does have some support for Android apps and the Google Play store.


Alternative Title(s): Android Games