Android Holo Era

Of all the nicknamed versions of Android, Jelly Bean was with us the longest. Android's "J" release lasted from version 4.1 in summer 2012 through until KitKat arrived in the winter of 2013. It was an important time for Android's maturity as a platform, with Google making the OS smoother and more stable across a wide range of devices, while laying the groundwork for future developments like Android Wear.

In the sixth part of our Android History series, we'll see how fierce competition among phone makers in the Jelly Bean era brought us some of the most unique, beautiful and capable devices yet. We'll take a look at how Google tried (and failed) to bring stock Android to a wider audience with the ill-fated Google Play editions program. And we'll revisit the rise of wearables, including the first mass-market Android powered smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

Jelly Beans

HTC fights plastic with metal

The year was 2013, and it launched what we can really consider to be the start of the plateau of Android hardware. Not that that's a bad thing, and it's not like there wasn't room for improvement, both in terms of the phones themselves, and the software that was running on them.

It also was a time in which we saw one smartphone manufacturer build what many of us consider to be its (imperfect) masterpiece, and another started to stumble a bit.

HTC One M7

The M7 was HTC's imperfect masterpiece.

Taiwanese manufacturer HTC found itself in 2013. Sort of. HTC's no stranger to coming out with several phones at once. But it was what would become known as the M7 — after launching simply as the "HTC One" (never mind that there were several variants before it) — that set HTC on its current course.

The design heritage of the M7 can definitely be seen in the likes of the Droid DNA on Verizon and the J Butterfly in Japan. But there absolutely was something special about the M7. Metal. Two large, front-facing stereo speakers. And a curved body that even HTC itself hasn't really been able to replicate. And some of that has to do with the size of the M7, one of the last phones we've used that kept things below the 5-inch display threshold.

When we think back to phones that fit in a hand instead of something you struggle to hold onto, the M7 is the phone you think of. Pick one up today and you'll be reminded of just how nearly perfect the size and design were. It's another one of those examples of where things were perfect the way they were and didn't necessarily scale up well, as was evidenced by 2014's HTC One M8, and in the following year's revision in the M9.

Or to put it another way: Pick up an M7 today and you might well be tempted to try to use it again. That's a strong statement for the way this (now) 2-year-old phone feels in the hand.

The M7 was a big leap forward for HTC in terms of software and features, too. Its "Sense" user interface got a major refresh, with its new "Blinkfeed" reader an integral part of the launcher experience. With it you could get news and social information at a glance, and it turned out to be pretty popular.

HTC had the features, but it never properly marketed or explained them to consumers.

The other big change for HTC had to do with the camera. Whereas other manufacturers were pushing more megapixels, HTC attempted to squelch that talk altogether in favor of the "Ultrapixel." The short version is that while there were fewer individual pixels on the sensor — for a total resolution of about 4MP — each individual pixel let in more light. The problem was that while you might get better shots in low light, anything outdoors during the day was subject to being blown out. It's not that you couldn't get cool shots from the M7, it's just that it was a bit of a crapshoot. The M7 also was the start of the "Zoe" feature and video highlights. Zoes were sort of a weird mashup of still images, 7-second videos and animated gifs. This was moving pictures long before Apple did it. And while it made for some compelling content, HTC never properly marketed it or explained it to consumers — and that was before it basically tore it down anyway.

Video Highlights took all your still images, videos and Zoe clips and automatically combined them into a 30-second highlight film, complete with adjustable filters and music. It was really well done, but, again, the message was lost. Highlight videos are now a feature on most every phone, and Google does the same sort of thing in its Google Photos service.

The M7 was one hell of a phone. HTC's struggled to find that fire again.

Galaxy S4 event

Samsung comes to Broadway, and brings the kitchen sink

Samsung had a real hit on its hands in 2012 with the Galaxy S3. So we sort of figured this "Nature UX" thing would have legs and would continue to grow in 2013. The question was how would Samsung top itself after the previous year's London takeover.

Broadway big;
Samsung weird.

How about taking over Times Square in New York City?

Samsung invited a few thousand of its closest friends to none other than Radio City Music Hall on March 14, 2013, to unveil the Galaxy S4. It was the first Unpacked event of the year for Samsung, which had scaled things back a bit at Mobile World Congress just few weeks earlier. So we knew this was going to be big.

How big? Broadway big.

And big-time productions are nothing new to Samsung. The very first Unpacked event in Las Vegas in 2010 was more school play than Great White Way, but we'd seen this sort of event before. Just not at this scale. The event itself was cause for a little bit of controversy, though, with more than a few attendees taking offense at the roles presented by women. Strictly from a device standpoint, though, Samsung had actor Will Chase (One Life to Live, Rescue Me and more recently, Nashville) on hand to lead us through all the things the new Galaxy S4 could do.

Will Chase was helped along by box-wielding miniature humanoid Jeremy Maxwell, who featured in a series of bizarre promo trailers for the launch event.

So what could the Galaxy S4 do? Well, basically, "everything." The GS4 is the first phone we remember feeling intimidated by. It did everything. Or at least it tried to. You had all the usual Samsung bells and whistles, of course. Above average camera, but now with even more shooting modes and features and ways to share what you shot with anyone and everyone.

If you needed it, chances are it was in a Hub.

Health and fitness features abounded in S Health. As did hubs. There was a hub for everything. Music Hub. Books Hub. Games Hub. Video Hub. If you needed it, chances are it was in a Hub. This was the first time your phone would look at you to see if you were looking at it, and pause video playback accordingly if you weren't properly paying attention. You could tilt the phone to scroll through web pages. You could wave your hand over it to move back and forth through items in various apps.

There was a lot going on.

Galaxy S4

Plus there was KNOX, Samsung's built-in container system that it unveiled at Mobile World Congress the previous month, meaning the Galaxy S4 would one of the first Android phones that your company IT department probably wouldn't look at in fear. The age of Bring Your Own Device was truly beginning for smartphones, and Samsung wanted to play a big role in it.

But it's possible to bite off too much. To try to do too much. The hardware of the GS4 scaled things up a bit to a 5-inch display in a body that belied its size, but it lost some of its curviness — a feature we very much loved in the GS3 — in the process. What we were left with with a larger plastic slab that just wasn't quite as interesting. It was still nice enough, just not as cool.

And as a testament to the fact that maybe the GS4 was just a bit overwhelming, Samsung began paring back features and services in its next two versions.

Cyanogen, Inc.

CyanogenMod, the most popular independent custom ROM for Android, continued its popularity even as Cyanogen lead Steve Kondik took up a software engineering job at Samsung. Then, in March of 2013, Kondik left the Korean phone maker.

Steve Kondik

It wasn't entirely clear at the time why Steve Kondik quit, but shortly after it happened he promised something big was coming. Steve was focusing all his effort on CyanogenMod, and anyone paying attention to the project could tell it was growing and improving at a dramatically faster pace.

In September of 2013, Steve Kondik and his new partner Kirt McMaster announced the creation of Cyanogen, Inc. The idea was to form a new professional arm to CyanogenMod, one that could be taken seriously enough for manufacturers to consider using as the default operating system instead of an internally developed version of Android. With a third party developing and maintaining the software, especially if that company was able to lean on a long history of supporting hardware long after most manufacturers, it's not hard to see how this idea could have some appeal to a lot of companies.

"I'm a tech guy, I'm not a business guy. I probably would've never done it on my own."

In our interview with Steve Kondik, the co-founder and CTO of Cyanogen recalled the early days of the company:

"I'm a tech guy, I'm not a business guy. I probably would've never done it on my own. Kirt [McMaster], who's our CEO — I didn't know him, he kinda just reached out to me one day on LinkedIn, and he had some good ideas. We met up that weekend and threw a bunch of ideas around and kept talking, and before we knew it we were meeting with VCs and doing the Silicon Valley roadshow and stuff. It took us around five months of telling our story, and we closed a round and got to work."

"I'd like to see us as the opposite of the walled garden. That's kind of the big idea, right?"

As far as the world was concerned, Cyanogen Inc was now a startup backed by $7 million from a variety of investors. The company goal was to maintain both the open source and community driven CyanogenMod as well as the new Cyanogen OS aimed at being the primary OS for new phones. It legitimized years of work on Android while promising to be the same community project so many users had come to know and love. Perhaps most important, it represented a third option in how software was supported on an Android phone. The Google Way, the Manufacturer Way, and the Cyanogen Way.

"I'd like to see us as the opposite of the walled garden. That's kind of the big idea, right? What happens when you do the opposite. Where you become this platform that's extensible by everyone and anyone in all these crazy ways," Kondik says.

"Like this is our world and if you want to be in it here's how it is. That's where I want us to be."

"But it's early days."

Steve Kondik Interview

When it comes to Android "hacking" and ROM development, Steve Kondik is a big deal, having led the CyanogenMod project before going commercial with Cyanogen, Inc and CyanogenOS. We caught up with Steve at the Big Android BBQ Europe in Amsterdam, Netherlands to learn about his unique perspective on Android's past, present and future.

More: Steve Kondik: Android History Interview

Google Play editions: An experiment in stock Android

Something unusual happened at the Google I/O 2013 developer conference. Instead of taking to the stage and showing off a new Nexus device or unwrapping a new version of Android, Google's Dave Burke showed attendees a special version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. This was a GS4 with Google's Nexus software experience, also known as "stock" Android.

For hardcore Android enthusiasts, it was a dream come true. No longer would they have to choose between pure Android, as Google intended, and premium features like high-res displays, quality cameras and LTE connectivity. And it'd also mean greater collaboration between Samsung (and eventually other OEMs) and Google, presumably a good thing for all concerned.

It's hard to view the GPe program as anything beyond a weird Google experiment.

This was the start of the Google Play editions program, through which phone buyers in the U.S. could purchase Googlified versions of popular handsets from some of the top Android phone makers. You'd have to pay handsomely for the privilege, but if you really wanted the latest high-end Samsung phone without... well, all the Samsung crap that went along with it, this was now within the realms of possibility.

Other manufacturers soon came on board. HTC quickly reversed its decision not to take part in the GPe program, swiftly conjuring up a stock Android version of the HTC One. More phones and tablets from Sony, LG and Motorola followed later in the year.

The engineering and partner relations benefits of these Google Play edition devices are difficult to judge. GPe partners got early Android code from Google to help push out the promised "timely" updates, but the phones themselves were only ever available in the U.S., and sales were poor all-round. The following year the project was abandoned, as rumors swirled of Google changing tactics and hoping to get carriers involved with selling "stock" Android phones.

The Google Play editions push came at a pivotal time for Android. Sundar Pichai had just taken over as Google's head of Android from founder Andy Rubin. The Android team was reportedly hard at work on wearables and a big platform refresh for the fall. Maybe these quirky handsets were simply a way to get "pure" Google Android into more hands in the short term. Maybe the whole thing was an exercise in working more closely with manufacturer partners. Or maybe it was all just another crazy Google experiment.


Google reinvents Motorola's smartphone division

One of the most talked about, least understood and ridiculously expensive Google purchases was the acquisition of Motorola's smartphone division in late 2012. For Google, it meant access to the teams that invented the mobile phone, a fistfull of patents, and an in-house division to prototype and build hardware that might never see the light of day. For Motorola, it meant not going bankrupt and having to stop making phones. But the important parts to us center around Larry Page's decree that the purchase would "supercharge the Android ecosystem."

While things didn't pan out quite the way anyone expected, what did happen was a boon for both companies as well as consumers.

Motorola in 2011 was a bit of a mess. In the US, Verizon was trying to keep them relevant, and abroad they were struggling. Android was maturing and there wasn't much of a need — or a desire — for Motorola's customizations (a.k.a. "Blur") to get in the way when you were trying to use your phone to do the cool smartphone stuff everyone was talking about. Samsung was reinventing its version of Android with more success, but Motorola just couldn't seem to get things right. Owners of decidedly half-baked Motorola phones like the Droid Bionic can attest to that.

What Google did that was important to us was redefine how Motorola would take Android from lines of code into something people would want to use. Enter the Moto X.

Jim Wicks

The goal was simple, and achievable — take basic Android, and only add features that don't duplicate existing ones, and add things that showcase Android (and Google's) unique features. Built on a custom fabbed CPU and SoC design, the Moto X brought things like Google Now voice actions, compartmentalized and developer-customized notifications, and Google's Internet services to the forefront.

Speaking with Android Central for this series, Jim Wicks, Motorola's Senior Vice President of Consumer Experience Design said the Google acquisition and Moto X release was an exciting time within the company.

"[Google] challenged our culture."

"[Google] challenged our culture. They challenged us to take the best of what we had and bring it forward. And we self-realised that there were some things we had culturally that we had to discard in order to move forward," Wicks says. "It allowed us to make some big portfolio changes. To go from a portfolio that had a number of different products, very carrier and regionally focused, and actually convert to a portfolio that was very consumer-focused, brand-focused. That's what drove a lot of the focus on the Moto X and the Moto franchise going forward."

But the Moto X wasn't much of a hit. The people who did buy one (or one of the Verizon custom versions) seemed to really like how it worked and the things it could do, however sales paled compared to the Samsung juggernaut. The Moto X was a fine phone, and one of our favorites. But it was expensive, and didn't sell 50 million units.

As cool as the Moto X was for Android fans, the Moto G was far, far more important in the long run.

Motorola and Google had another idea though, and it was one that was more important in the long run. We're talking about the Moto G.

The Moto G was a budget device, designed for users all over the globe that didn't want to spend $600 on a new smartphone but still wanted the $600 smartphone experience. And it delivered. There was no other Android phone that did so much, did it so well, and cost so little. The original Moto G was a huge hit in Latin America, and is Motorola's most successful (read: they made money) smartphone line ever. It continues to be a popular seller today, and that $120 phone you can buy from your local big-box store can still provide an excellent Android experience.

"We weren't surprised about the quality of [Moto G] and the fact that consumers wanted it. But we were pleasantly surprised that it scaled."

"It was all about premium value and giving consumers something that they didn't have before. We knew, in the industry, that technology had gotten to the point where people could have a no-compromises smartphone at a really fair price," says Jim Wicks. "So we felt really confident about that, and we knew that at retail we could win. Because at that time everything was subsidized. And when you get out of subsidized markets we were seeing real success in areas where people were looking at 'how much am I spending and what am I getting.'"

"We weren't surprised about the quality of the products and the fact that consumers wanted it. But we were pleasantly surprised that it scaled. It just took off."

Moto figure

While Google may not have benefitted as much from the patents and hardware divisions they bought from Motorola as much as they would have liked, they were successful at showcasing "Pure" Android and the things that make it unique. And the Moto G helped supercharge the Android ecosystem just a little bit, especially in markets like India and Brazil.

Nexus 7 2013 launch

Google's entertainment play: Android 4.3, Nexus 7 and Chromecast

Following up on the surprising success of the original Nexus 7, Google assembled press to a small event in July 2013 where it unloaded a fresh new version of the tablet, dubbed simply the Nexus 7 (2013). Working with ASUS once again, Google took on a bit more of the design duties to sculpt a tablet that was sleeker, more powerful and unique from the rest of ASUS' tablet lineup.

The new Nexus 7 dropped the faux leather back and shiny plastic to go with a full wrap of soft touch plastic, while also slimming down in every dimension. The screen stayed the same size, but bumped up to a fantastic 1920x1200 resolution, with small bezels on the sides to keep total size down but with larger bezels on the top and bottom for holding in landscape mode for video. Even with the smaller body Google managed to get in stereo speakers, a big improvement, and added a 5MP rear camera.

On the inside Google made notable improvements, basically taking the internals of the Nexus 4 — a similar Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM — to power the whole thing, while also bumping up the base storage to 16GB. The battery dropped in size, but battery life actually increased thanks to the more efficient components. With all of the improvements in the hardware just a year after the previous version, the price only bumped up modestly — starting at $229, up from $199.

The second Nexus 7 was a huge improvement upon its janky predecessor ...

The Nexus 7 (2013) was a huge improvement from its predecessor in just about every way — it was quick, the screen looked great, and the build was lighter and easier to hold. It's no surprise that it continued to sell at the same clip that the Nexus 7 (2012) left off, with massive retail success. Whereas the first N7 looked and performed like a cheap tablet, its successor was sleeker and faster in every way.

Just unveiling the new Nexus tablet would've been big enough for an event, but Google also released Android 4.3, bringing a handful of small improvements to the Jelly Bean base. Android 4.3 brought some low-level features like Bluetooth 4.0 support, multiple user accounts for tablets and new DRM APIs, but in general was mostly a maintenance release for the platform.

... But equally important was Android 4.3 and a handful of features that paved the way for Android Wear.

Arguably the most important changes were the ones that would facilitate Android Wear the following year: Notification listeners (the ability for certain apps to pick up and display your notifications), and native Bluetooth 4.0 support for keeping wearables connected with less battery strain.

And who could forget that the original Chromecast was also released at the same event, a year on from the ill-fated Nexus Q streaming sphere. Coming out of nowhere, Google unveiled the $35 HDMI stick that kicked off an entirely new way to consume media from its own library and others on your TV, putting pressure on rivals to up their media streaming game.


The LG G2 - and a design revolution

With the G2, LG began something of a design revolution with its highest end smartphones. It proved it was possible to squeeze a large screen display into a smaller body form factor. The decision to relocate the power and volume buttons from the side edges to the rear of the phone was something never attempted before.

To some it seemed foolish, an idea that would never take off. To others, a revelation. Either way it made the G2 stand out from the crowd. And while there are some who will never warm to rear-facing buttons, what started out as a crazy concept turned into something great to actually use.

That's because LG managed to hit exactly the right spot on the back of the phone for where your finger would land if you were holding it in either hand. Turning the screen off or adjusting the volume no longer required the other hand or adjusting your grip on the phone. And as LG's VP of product strategy told Android Central, the back buttons also allowed for the G2's super-slim bezels.

What started out as a necessity of design became a stand-out feature for LG.

"The design with buttons on the back came from different parts [of LG]," Woo says, "Design at the time had a mock-up with buttons on the back, and it looked really nice. At the same time I started to push really hard for a minimal bezel. And our R&D engineering team, they asked me: if you can take the volume button out from the side, they said they can minimize the bezel on the left and right. So it came from everywhere."

Ramchan Woo

As a result, that glorious 5.2-inch 1080p display was much bigger than holding the phone would have you believe. It ticked all the boxes on internal hardware and boasted a superb camera with optical image stabilization. The G2 was about as advanced on the hardware front as you could get when it launched. There's not much it didn't have.

The software, sadly, was the Achilles' heel of an otherwise impressive handset. And it's sad to say that's a trait that hasn't altered much to this day. In one corner LG could boast epic battery life, in another it was throwing a mish-mash of colors, badly designed UI elements and a tendency to be slow at pushing out updates to newer versions of Android. There were useful features galore, but you never heard anyone say it was well designed or pleasing on the eye. On top of that bright technicolor UI came somewhat surreal notification tones courtesy of a partnership with the Vienna boys choir.

A technicolor UI and tones from the Vienna boys choir.

The G2 was very much a Jekyll and Hyde story for LG. Glorious hardware, but a definite mis-step on the software. However there's no denying its impact. It'd be fair to call it an icon in the overpopulated world of Android smartphones. Never would it be confused for anything else and at launch it was definitely one of the premiere devices out there. Some of us would still use it today.

While the G2 wasn't the first flagship-level smartphone from LG, it was the start of the manufacturer tapping resources from its various component companies — LG Display, LG Innotek and LG Chem — to create a differentiated high-end smartphone. That's the purpose of LG's flagship phone series, says Dr. Woo.

"That's G."

Dr. Ramchan Woo Interview

If you've used a flagship LG phone in recent years, you'll be familiar with the work of Dr. Ramchan Woo. LG's VP of product strategy played a major role in the development of the Korean company's "G" series smartphones, and has a unique perspective on LG's rise from an outsider to one of the bigger Android phone makers. We caught up with Dr. Woo in New York City to talk about the past, present and future of LG phones.

More: Dr. Ramchan Woo: Android History Interview{.cta}

The Samsung Galaxy Gear

By the summer of 2013, the smartwatch rumor mill was in full swing. Basic connected watches like the Pebble had demonstrated the potential of bringing notifications, music controls and other stuff onto your wrist, and it was reported that Samsung, Apple, Google, LG and others were hard at work on their own wearable platforms.

Galaxy Gear

Samsung's 'kitchen sink' hardware and software approach in a wearable.

The first of those major players to ship was Samsung, with the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean-powered Galaxy Gear. Just as it had done with tablets and the original Galaxy Tab, Samsung brought Android to watches before Android was really ready for this new class of device. It also brought Samsung's "kitchen sink" hardware and software design approach to wearables, with mixed results. Front and center was a big AMOLED display, along with chunky hardware keys and an enormous camera protrusion around on the band.

The interface was somewhat confusing, the battery life wasn't great, and like Samsung's phones at the time, the Galaxy Gear felt like it was trying to do too much. Sales weren't great. In fact, one leaked document suggests they were as high as 30 percent at one retailer. But it was a learning experience for the manufacturer, which eventually iterated its way through to more manageable wearables like the Gear S2.

A couple years later, the Galaxy Gear made a brief appearance in the 2015 movie Jurassic World, along with an assortment of other dinosaurs.


Nexus 5 and KitKat

After more than a year on various flavors of Jelly Bean, it was time for a new version of Android in late 2013. The next big thing in Android, rumored to go by the name Key Lime Pie, eventually broke cover on September 3 as Android 4.4 KitKat. And with it, a partnership with Nestle would get the Android brand onto candy wrappers around the world. (It was a day of bizarre mobile news: Microsoft had announced that they were buying Nokia just hours earlier.)

Nexus 5

Although the "Holo" design language had evolved and softened since 2011, the look and feel of Android hadn't changed all that much over the previous couple of years. And although KitKat didn't represent a total re-think of Android's visual style, it was a pretty big change. Translucent status bars and software keys opened up the large 5-inch screens of the time, and lighter brighter colors throughout the UI made Android seem more approachable.

The built-in launcher got an overhaul too, adding Google Now to the leftmost home screen panel, and underscoring the importance of predictive search to Google's vision of Android. The Nexus dialer app also got smarter with automatic caller ID based on Google's vast data reserves. This was a more Googley Android than ever before, setting the tone for the changes to come in Lollipop and beyond.

A more Googley Android, and looming signs of the OS's smartwatch ambitions.

There were also important under-the-hood enhancements like support for devices with just 512MB of RAM, and support for integrated sensors like pedometers. (More nods to the imminent arrival of Android smartwatches.)

Nexus homescreens

It was also time for a new Nexus phone to showcase this hardware: The LG Nexus 5.

The Nexus 5 was a great phone for phone nerds, but you didn't have to be an Android obsessive to appreciate it.

The second LG-built Nexus lacked the glass-backed, rubber-framed soul of the Nexus 4, but compensated with raw hardware muscle. A speedy new Snapdragon 800 processor and a 1080p display were packed into an unassuming plastic body. Sure, the Nexus 5 wasn't as pretty as competitors like the iPhone or the HTC One M7, but maybe that wasn't the point. Instead, it was a portal into a new version of Android rooted more closely than ever before in Google's service ecosystem.

The Nexus 5 also took strides forward in terms of being a great phone for regular people, not just Android enthusiasts. 4G LTE support, now basically a requirement, was onboard. The camera, while finicky at launch, was actually decent by the standards of 2013, and far from the afterthought of previous Nexus cameras. This was still a great phone for phone nerds, but you didn't have to be an Android obsessive to appreciate how good the Nexus 5 was.

Nexus 5

The only caveat? Somewhat disappointing battery life, on account of the relatively small 2,300mAh juicer powering all these high-end internals. Nevertheless, the Nexus 5 remained a fan favorite, eventually spawning a direct successor

The Nexus S and a story about 'open'

I'll bet most of us have forgotten the Nexus S. Besides the curved body and NFC support, there's not a lot to reminisce over. But the little Nexus S was a really important phone when it comes to being open.

The Nexus S was where the first development of Android 4.4 KitKat started.

The Nexus S was where the first development of Android 4.4 KitKat started. Not because it can run KitKat exceptionally well, but because the engineers writing the code and making all the parts do their thing in harmony needed open hardware. That's where the Nexus S was king, and we've not seen that level of open since.

Nexus S

A smartphone is filled with a multitude of components from various manufacturers. Most of the hardware in the Nexus S was open, as in the source code for the software to make them run was open-source and available for Google engineers to look at and modify. Because of this, taking an idea from paper to silicon was easier, and the Nexus S was the perfect starting point.

The Nexus S may not have been the most glamourous product to come out of Google, but for many of the people making Android, it was one of the most important. People are putting Marshmallow on their Nexus S because it's open and easier, and we hope it lives forever.

Exploring Glass

There has never been a shortage of companies trying to put Android into something that isn't a phone or a tablet, but Google's X lab has the award for best demonstration as they showed everyone what it would look like if Android lived on your face. Sergey Brin leaping out of a blimp and skydiving onto the roof of the convention center at Google I/O 2012 grabbed the attention of a lot of people, and shortly after that presentation anyone in attendance could register to become a so-called "explorer" for Project Glass.

Sergey Brin + Glass

It was basically a Samsung Galaxy Nexus that had been shrunk down to a small strip of plastic on the right side of a frame that rested on the face like a pair of glasses.

A small prism display gave the wearer access to notifications at a glance among other things, and the small battery that sat behind the ear promised to keep the whole thing going for most of a day.

The stigma associated with having a camera on you face generated a lot of tension for the Explorers program.

Project Glass has yet to become a full fledged consumer product, but Google's developer program (which they called the Explorer program) wasn't far off. The steep price tag and general stigma associated with having a camera on you face generated a lot of tension for the program, but the underlying ideas are still some of the best ideas for keeping people in the moment and off their phones that any company has come up with so far. Even today, long after Google decided to stop selling the expensive headset to new users in an effort to focus on a more consumer-friendly version of the product, there are still Explorers wandering the world and trying new things through this technology.

Android Central: Through Glass

Google Glass was as controversial as it was revolutionary. Powerful, highly visible and unlike any other computing device out there, Glass never saw a wide commercial release, but was instead offered for sale through Google's "Explorers" program. In our "Through Glass" series, we hear the stories of some of those people.

More: Our 'Through Glass' series{.cta}

Android Wear smartwatches

NEXT: Android Everywhere

In the next installment of our Android History series, we'll see how Lollipop, Material Design, Android Wear and Android Auto changed the face of the OS yet again, expanding it onto almost every screen size imaginable. We'll also examine how a disappointing Samsung flagship left the door open to others, and how an increasingly bold LG kicked off the QHD era on smartphones. This was the dawn of Android Everywhere.

READ PART 7: Android Everywhere


Words: Phil Nickinson, Alex Dobie, Jerry Hildenbrand, Andrew Martonik, Russell Holly and Richard Devine
Design: Derek Kessler and Jose Negron
Dr. Ramchan Woo Interview: Phil Nickinson and Derek Kessler
Steve Kondik photo credit: SF Android User Group
Series Editor: Alex Dobie