Android Holo Era

With the arrival of Android 4.0, Google's OS was starting to look like a mature platform. The Ice Cream Sandwich release gave phone and tablet makers a really solid foundation to build atop, and that's exactly what we saw in 2012. In particular, that year was pivotal for Samsung, which used the Galaxy S3 release and an enormous Olympic marketing tie-in to brute-force its way to the top of the Android pile.

In the fifth part of our series on the history of Android, we'll see how Samsung started to become a dominant force in the Android space, doing battle with Apple in the process. And we'll revisit how Google addressed some of Android's longstanding weaknesses through Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Google Play Services.

Samsung Unpacked

2012: A pivotal year for Samsung

Samsung had established itself as a major smartphone vendor with the launch of the Galaxy S2 (in all of its various versions), but 2012 and the launch of the Galaxy S3 marked a turning point for the Korean giant. This was the year it became a smartphone superpower.

This was the year Samsung became a smartphone superpower.

While the Galaxy S2 came in various shapes, colors, designs, configurations and names depending on where (and from which carrier) you bought it, Samsung put its foot down with the Galaxy S3, launching the same phone just about everywhere. It marked the transition with a brand new design — one that was "inspired by nature" — with smooth curves, slick colors and a redesigned interface that was soft to match the hardware. Piles upon piles of software features were introduced to fight the minimalistic iPhone it so desperately competed against, particularly in the U.S.

With a single phone to push now, Samsung dialed up its marketing budget to match. It was a worldwide sponsor of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (strategically only a couple months after the Galaxy S3 was announced), and you couldn't turn on a TV or see a billboard ad in any major city without learning about Samsung and the new Galaxy S. With a clearer message, and a new set of features and specs to push, Samsung's phone sales just kept climbing.

Galaxy S3 event

The first next big thing: The Samsung Galaxy S3

With its third major Android flagship ready to launch, Samsung was about to make a play not just for the galaxy, but for the entire mobile universe. And on May 3, 2012, the new center of the Galaxy was the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in Central London, for the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S3.

And it wasn't just a new phone we were talking about. Samsung was embracing a new design language after a couple of rounds of colorful, cartoony buttons and icons. Enter the Nature UX.

The GS1 and GS2 were the epitome of the black slab.

Look back on the Galaxy S3, and it makes sense. The GS1 and GS2 — particularly in their unadulterated form — were the epitome of the black slab. Functional as hell, but not much to look at, and certainly not much to feel. The Galaxy S3 from the get-go almost begged you to pick it up. It was shaped like a pebble. (Not to be confused with the Samsung Muse mp3 player, which absolutely did look like a pebble.) And once you did pick it up, you probably couldn't put it down. As soon as you turned it on your were greeted by a sort of still pond on the lock screen, which reacted to your touch with a little splash of water and a bloop sound that was fun the first thousand times. But, hey, nature.

And what's more was that for the first time there was one phone to rule them all. No more mucking around from the U.S. operators.

The London event turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, marking the beginning of what soon would be a Samsung media takeover. The most visible campaign was of course the Summer Olympics in London. While the Olympics is an onslaught of brands peppered with occasional acts of sport, Samsung was impossible to escape. It was everywhere. And that marketing push in conjunction with an excellent device led to the Galaxy S3 becoming one of those phones that refuses to die. Developers still have to support it. Walk down the street and look at the back of folks' phones and you'll see it. Flash. Camera. Speaker.

Samsung was everywhere.

Galaxy S3

And nobody was more aware of that than Apple. We already were well into the age of the patent lawsuit, with everyone suing pretty much everyone over who had which design or feature first. Apple v. Samsung. HTC v. Apple. Motorola v. Apple. Microsoft v. everybody.

But for Apple, it was personal. First with Android in general — we've all heard the quote of Steve Jobs "willing to go thermonuclear war on this" over Android as a whole. But then there was the matter of Samsung specifically. Design patents went after the look and feel of the phones themselves. (This is where the whole "Apple owns rounded corners" thing came together.) Software patents went after features on the phones themselves. The Galaxy S3 was one of many models targeted.

Samsung was the biggest target, of course, but there were others. And the fight's still ongoing. Apple won at trial, but how much Samsung owes still is up for debate. And ultimately none of this mattered to the consumer. Samsung phones are still available for purchase today. (Including, yes, the Galaxy S3.)

Galaxy S4 + iPhone

Apple versus Samsung versus Apple

Swipe your phone. Go ahead, stick a finger to the glass, and swipe. Now swipe some more. Keep swiping. Spread your fingers to zoom out. Now pinch to zoom in. Or swipe to unlock.

None of those gestures is your own. Somewhere, someone once patented those maneuvers. At least they did in the context of moving a finger across the touch-sensitive display on a hand-held device, the method comprising:

Slide to unlock

"Detecting a contact with the touch-sensitive display at a first predefined location corresponding to an unlock image; continuously moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display in accordance with movement of the contact while continuous contact with the touch screen is maintained, wherein the unlock image is a graphical, interactive user-interface object with which a user interacts in order to unlock the device; and unlocking the hand-held electronic device if the moving the unlock image on the touch-sensitive display results in movement of the unlock image from the first predefined location to a predefined unlock region on the touch-sensitive display."

Yes, that's a thing. To be specific, it's a patent awarded to Apple in 2011 for slide-to-unlock. The infamous "721" patent was one of a number of patented software features Samsung was found to have willfully infringed as part of a years-long (and still going!) series of back-and-forth lawsuits between two of the world's biggest smartphone manufacturers.

Purposefully infringing on a someone else's IP is a dark side of doing business, too. "Great artists steal" and all that.

Companies suing each other isn't exactly a new phenomenon, and protecting intellectual property is an important part of any business. Conversely, purposefully infringing on a someone else's IP is a dark side of doing business, too. "Great artists steal" and all that.

And in late 2011 and well into 2012 and then some, tech companies suing each other over various hardware and software patents seemed to dominate the headlines every day. Maybe it was swipe to unlock. Maybe it was one phone looking a little too much (or a lot too much) like someone else's phone. Lawsuits were filed. Injunctions were filed. Occasionally, phones were banned from being sold in certain countries while the lawyers figured it all out.

And Samsung and Apple were two of the biggest players in what seemed like a high-stakes game of mutually assured destruction. And for Apple, it was personal.

Galaxy S4

Android was a "stolen product," as far as the late Steve Jobs was concerned. And that wasn't even counting the influence that the iPhone itself clearly had on handset design. And so the lawsuits began. The super-short, don't-have-a-law-degree version is Apple sued Samsung over a number of software patents (think slide-to-unlock) and hardware patents (think overall design, including rounded corners). This happened in a number of countries throughout the world. Apple tried to get a U.S. judge to ban Samsung from selling its phones while this was all being sorted. When that didn't happen, Samsung kept on selling millions of phones. A U.S. jury ultimately ruled that Samsung willfully violated some patents, and that it didn't on others. (Other patents, still, were ruled invalid in the first place — which brings about the argument that software patents are silly in the first place.) Samsung was ordered to pay some $119 million of the $2.2 billion Apple was seeking — and it's still appealing that amount today.

The battle also played out in marketing — at least if you were Samsung. Starting with the Galaxy S3, Samsung aggressively targeted Apple's iPhone in ads on TV, the web, print, and even billboards. Practically every Galaxy S3 ad compared the phone to the iPhone, quite often with a mocking tone towards iPhone owners and Apple's own superlative marketing (especially those that would wait in line for the latest Apple device). It was hard to turn anywhere without seeing Samsung ads deriding the iPhone. Apple, for their part, largely ignored Samsung's media mockery.

Samsung was ordered to pay some $119 million of the $2.2 billion Apple was seeking — and it's still appealing that amount today.

This didn't happen overnight. We're talking a good four or so years. In the meantime Samsung (and others) changed various aspects of their design. A new guard came into power at Apple. (And at Samsung, for that matter.) And in 2014 both sides settled all their non-U.S. cases.

So what did any of this mean to your average consumer? Not a lot, beyond the fanboy arguments and the occasional nightly headline. But behind the scenes it led to minor redesigns in hardware and software — which might well have occurred naturally. We'll never know.

Today, both companies continue to enjoy life as the top smartphone manufacturers in the world. And presumably their lawyers are still doing just fine, too.

Cyanogen logo

CyanogenMod: The Android 'hacking' playground

Android was an accidental playground for people who enjoyed tinkering with their phones.

The early days for Android were a bit of an accidental playground for people who enjoyed tinkering with their phones. HTC's G1 wasn't released with the explicit intent to be this hackable phone, but when it was discovered that you really could build your own version of Android with the right know-how and install it on your phone as this thing you modified to fit your needs, that idea appealed to a lot of folks. Steve Kondik, known everywhere online as Cyanogen, was one of those people who gravitated towards the idea of modifying software to support your needs and sharing those ideas with the world. The excitement surrounding that idea quickly grew into a group project CyanogenMod. It was one of many, but over time became the most popular of the third-party Android projects you could install and use on your phone instead of whatever it was sold with.


A significant part of CyanogenMod's early popularity spawned from essentially offering software support and updates either faster than the manufacturers could offer or long after a manufacturer had abandoned a phone. CyanogenMod breathed new life into a lot of phones, and that made a lot of people not only happy to have a (generally) better phone, but also curious about what they could do to contribute.

Cyanogen could often support older phones better than their own manufacturers.

Where things really got interesting was the day Kondik got a Cease and Desist letter from Google. Building Android, modifying it, and flashing it to your phone was fine, but packaging Google's apps and services without permission wasn't allowed. This being the Internet, when word got around that Google had put its foot down it caused an explosion of new users eager to try this new experience for themselves, and at the same time the list of CyanogenMod contributors grew. Before long there were multiple people dedicating every waking moment not spent at some kind of job working on CyanogenMod in one way or another. New features were announced on a regular basis, and anyone with a phone that supported CyanogenMod found themselves regularly flashing the latest weekly or even nightly update to the operating system.

As for Kondik, his work on CyanogenMod led to a brief stint as a software engineer for Samsung, after which he co-founded Cyanogen, Inc, a new commercial arm for this still growing Android distribution.

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

The Content Marketplace: Enter Google Play

One of the many huge changes for Android in 2012 was the rebranding of the Android Market to Google Play, and the subsequent expansion of Google's digital content offerings.

It may seem odd today, but until March of 2012, Google's digital content strategy was simply tied to Android devices by way of the Android Market. This is where, since 2009, you'd download apps and other media, but other types of content — like music and books — were placed within their own applications. In rebranding to Google Play, everything was brought into one central content hub. With the single Google Play Store app, users could download apps, games, books, magazines, music, and movies & TV shows all in one place, and access them on a wider variety of devices.

Google Play apps

Google's content ecosystem moves beyond Android.

Google also used the opportunity to launch a complete redesign of the mobile app and web interface, and a flow of great new features. In subsequent years, Google Play evolved to add tons of new features for both consumers and developers — recurring subscriptions, in-app purchases and carrier billing all made it easier to buy, sell and manage content. Google even briefly used the Google Play Store to sell its own Nexus devices and accessories, though it subsequently pulled those sales out into a separate Google Store.

Though it was jarring at first, having a high-level digital content portal for a variety of devices makes a lot of sense compared to keeping it tied to Android. Google Play content is now available on Android phones and tablets, of course, but also laptops and desktops via the browser, iOS devices thanks to new apps from Google, and other types of devices like the Chromecast and Android TV.

The HTC One series

Up until 2012, HTC didn't really have a single global "flagship" brand for its smartphones. One year, in one country it might be "Desire." The next, "Sensation." And like most manufacturers at the time, the U.S. market was a whole other mess, with carriers demanding their own exclusive brands and devices.

"HTC One" saw the Taiwanese phone maker — still riding high from the glory days of 2011, but having weathered a few months of reduced revenues — trying to consolidate things and present a single brand to smartphone buyers the world over.

Ironically, HTC One ended up being two phones, before ballooning to include many others.

HTC One X + S

Ironically, HTC One was actually two phones — at least to begin with — which caused some confusion among attendees at the phone's Mobile World Congress launch event. CEO Peter Chou referred to the company's two new phones as simply "HTC One," before later revealing the two flavors of One, the larger plastic One X, and the smaller metal-bodied One S.

HTC also fielded the forgettable One V, a low-end offering shaped after 2010's Legend, with a large angular "chin." And later in the year the One brand expanded to include more (and arguably less special) mid-range stuff.

The two main "One" handsets doubled down on digital imaging, with HTC's "ImageChip" technology and a pretty decent 8-megapixel camera across both devices. Meanwhile the HTC-owned Beats contributed audio enhancements to the company's new phones.

So why two "flagship" phones in that year? HTC Europe's product and services director, Graham Wheeler, told Android Central that it stemmed from different markets having different needs.

"The One S was more predominantly a European design."

"The One X and One S actually, it was brought about by Europe having very different segments of markets where we felt that different people wanted different devices. Because we don't believe in a 'one size fits all' strategy. And the One S was actually more predominantly a European design compared to the One X, which was more of a global design."

"So we felt that there was space for two flagships and different people had very different needs. So if you look at the One X it was very much a performance device, with the specifications to max that performance. The One S still had that performance element but it was also a design-led proposition. It didn't have everything that the One X had in terms of the absolute top technology we could cram in. [Instead] it had a beautiful form factor with [micro-arc] oxidation and things like that."

The sleek, metal-bodied One S remains one of the best-looking phones HTC has ever shipped, though it was compromised by a disappointing low-res AMOLED display. By contrast, the One X was among the first with a dazzling 1080p SuperLCD2 screen, but packed into a run-of-the-mill polycarbonate shell.

But the differences between the two "Ones" were more than skin deep. Europe, which lacked widespread 4G LTE networks, got a One X running NVIDIA's Tegra 3 processor, a quad-core chip backed up by GeForce-branded graphics. At the time, quad-core was a big deal, with manufacturers expecting to shift more units to enthusiasts based on having more cores than the competition. In reality, Qualcomm's new Snapdragon S4, powering the One S and a number of other 2012 handsets, was more than capable of keeping up, and wasn't as battery-intensive as NVIDIA's chip. (And what's more, Qualcomm could boast integrated LTE, a big deal for markets like the U.S.)

Despite the generally high quality of the first "One" series devices, HTC's 2012 handsets were steamrolled by the Samsung marketing juggernaut. And it would take a re-think of the "One" brand in 2013 for HTC to really differentiate itself at the high end.

OK Google, tell me about Jelly Bean

Mechanically, Google's Android had grown and improved in hundreds of ways since the launch of the T-Mobile G1, but by and large users were still doing the same things with their phones: checking email, playing games, Facebook, and jumping between a dozen apps to perform other small, but surprisingly complex, tasks. A big part of Google's second phase in improving Android was aimed at performance — reducing the time to complete a task as well as the amount of processing and battery power needed to do so. The first big push in this direction started with Android 4.1, which is more commonly known as Jelly Bean.

Google Now

Jelly Bean included "Project Butter," which was a silly marketing name for improving the performance of the user interface. Now that Android was viewed as a market leader in a lot of places around the world, visual appeal played a significant role when users were comparing Android phones with other smartphones out there. Smoother transitions, better scrolling animations, and a generally less visually stuttery experience was a big focus with this project. When it launched on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Project Butter quickly became a major talking point when comparing the phone to everything else on the market at the time. The Galaxy Nexus was like a new phone on Jelly Bean.

In Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google goes to war on UI stutters.

That small complex tasks bit mentioned earlier is a lot more important than it sounds, especially when you don't notice how often you flip back and forth between email, SMS, and maps to get the information you need so you can start navigation from your home to the meeting you're supposed to be at in 45 minutes. Google's solution to this, and a ton of other things the company thought they could help shortcut, was Google Now.

Jelly Bean

By looking at your regular behaviors and keywords in conversations, Google Now started as a way to offer suggestions and predict your behavior. If you got an email inviting you to an event, Google Now would offer to add the event to your calendar or let you know what the weather would be like where the event was located. If you searched for movie showtimes or hours for a restaurant, Google Now would offer driving time to that location. If you wanted to search for something, all you had to do was speak and Now would answer.

When it was accurate and helpful, Google Now was viewed as both amazing and a little creepy. The voice functionality meant you were basically talking to your phone, but not in the single-shot commands like we'd seen before. All of a sudden it seemed like Google was paying a lot closer attention to your data than most people previously thought. But at the same time the way Google dramatically decreased the number of steps involved in managing your own data was the start of something new and amazing.

Nexus 7

Nexus on a tablet: The ASUS Nexus 7

A year after the launch of the unmitigated disaster known as the Motorola Xoom, Google took a swing at its first Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7, through a partnership with ASUS. Launched at the Google I/O developer conference in 2012 — at which every attendee received one — the Nexus 7 was the launch platform for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. But it also marked a commitment from Google to nurturing Android as a tablet-friendly operating system with an ecosystem of tablet-ready apps.

The 7-inch device was loosely based on ASUS' budget tablet of that year, the MeMo Pad. In fact, the Nexus 7 was reportedly first conceived of at the CES 2012 show, where the MeMo Pad had been first shown. That summer, ASUS UK and Nordic head, Benjamin Yeh told Forbes a little more about the Nexus 7's path to release:

"Our top executives met Google's top executives at CES to talk about opportunities and how they saw the future market. That's when we came up with the idea of the Google Nexus 7 by Asus. That was in January, and mass production started in May."

ASUS and Google came up with the Nexus 7 in January, and mass production started in May.

But this was more than just a re-badged ASUS tablet — there was design and functional influence from Google. A grippy dimpled back helped with grip, and build quality was tightened up across the board. It had a good (for the time) 1280x800 display and Google opted for an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor to power the whole thing. At $199 it was a fantastic value, and the build and performance separated it from the rest of the ho-hum Android slates around that price point.

Unlike the larger landscape-oriented Xoom, the Nexus 7 was a portrait-oriented device that had an interface closer to the traditional Android phone UI. This continuity between tablets and phones not only improved usability, but helped the Nexus 7 get by on the scaled-up phone apps of the day.

Nexus 7

With a new development target from Google with a large screen and a renewed importance placed on larger-screened devices, developers could now test their apps and build new experiences that would look great on a variety of devices. It unfortunately didn't seem to build enthusiasm for Android tablet apps (or Android tablets themselves) immediately, but the offerings we see today can be directly attributed to Google getting the ball rolling back in 2012.

The Nexus 7's creeping storage-related performance issues also didn't help. Software updates eventually remedied these, though not before the 2012 model had been superseded by the speedier 2013 Nexus 7.

With the initial success of the Wi-Fi-only models and the bump from a later release of a 3G-enabled version (that also bumped to 32GB of storage), ASUS said it sold over five million Nexus 7s in 2012 alone. The Google-ASUS device partnership continued into the following year, giving us a second Nexus 7 that was slimmer, lighter, and faster.

Chrome Android

Google Play Services: The misunderstood core of Google's Android

In a year of major Android developments, there's one that's easily overlooked. Google Play Services isn't a sexy new device, app or software feature. But it's hugely important to the way Google's version of Android works, and it first launched in September 2012.

Play Services lets Google, and developers, do a lot without waiting for new firmware versions to roll out.

On Android devices, Google Play Services is a system-level app that's regularly updated in the background through the Google Play Store. Because of the privileged access it has to your phone or tablet, it can do a lot of things that other apps can't, like scan apps as they're installed, or remotely lock or wipe your phone if necessary. It's also an important target for developers, letting them integrate with services like Google Play Games, Google Fit and Android Wear.

That it can do all this while being updated in the background across the vast majority of the active Android install base is a big deal. When it first launched, Google Play Services supported all devices back to Android 2.2, Froyo. At the time of writing that's been moved to to version 2.3, Gingerbread. Without Play Services, phones would need to wait for a firmware update to get access to newer Google features like the underpinnings of Android Wear. And emerging security threats might not be so easily deflected.

And keeping security and API layer outside of the core (open-source) Android OS also gives Google some insurance against third-party "forks" of Android, which don't get access to this stuff.

Google Play Services is a huge topic, so for a complete rundown of why it's so important, you'll want to check out our editorial on how it's formed the backbone of the modern Android experience.

The Genius of Google Play Services

In Play Services, Google has a silver bullet with which to combat some of Android's greatest weaknesses. Read our editorial to find out how Google Play Services is a formidable weapon against some of Android's (and Google's) greatest foes, and how any discussion of Android security or "fragmentation" is flawed without an understanding of it.

More: The Genius of Google Play Services

Krait expectations

Just as Samsung's overt dominance of the Android landscape was starting to take shape, another company was beginning to take over behind the scenes. Chipmaker Qualcomm had always been a major player in the world of smartphone processors, however the emergence of the first chips using its "Krait" microarchitecture in 2012 was a big turning point.

"Krait" was key to Qualcomm's Android dominance from 2012 to 2014.

Krait brought major improvements in performance and power consumption, while integrated LTE support proved an important differentiator for the U.S. market. Whereas rivals like NVIDIA and Samsung stacked up four ARM Cortex-A9 cores, Qualcomm could compete — with superior single-core performance — on just two Krait cores.

Qualcomm - Paul Jacobs

Upon getting a first look at Qualcomm's early Krait development platform in February 2012, Anandtech summed up the importance of these chips:

"Krait offers another generational leap in mobile SoC performance. The range of impact depends entirely on the workload but it's safe to say that it's noticeable. The GPU side of the equation has been improved tremendously as well, although that's mostly a function of 28nm enabling a very high clock speed for Qualcomm's Adreno 225."

Krait would continue to dominate through until 2014, through the popular Snapdragon 600, 800, 801 and 805 chipsets, which were used by basically all the major contenders in mobile. Even Samsung used Krait chips in its phones in many markets, choosing them over its own Exynos SoCs.

Nexus 4

Nexus 4

2012 was a big year for Google's Nexus device program. Not only did we get the first Nexus tablets in the Nexus 7 and later the Samsung-built Nexus 10, but we also started to see a change in strategy for how Google would handle marketing and selling these devices. After multiple iterations of Nexus phones with high prices, poor retail availability and muddy marketing messages, Google teamed up with LG to make the Nexus 4 and release it to the world in November 2012.

Ramchan Woo

LG at the time wasn't known for making the best Android phones out there, but initial worries about those issues transferring over to the Nexus 4 were quickly put to bed. The Nexus 4 was designed and built fantastically, with glass covering both sides of the 4.7-inch device that was relatively easy to hold and had an extra bit of flair that separated it from the Galaxy Nexus of 2011.

LG's VP of smartphone planning, Dr. Ramchan Woo, says LG was keen to get in on the Nexus program after local rival Samsung had shipped the previous two Nexus phones.

"Let's make [Google] fall in love with LG."

"Before Nexus 4, Google had other partners such as Samsung and HTC. And our intention was: once they finish the project, let's make them fall in love with LG, [from] an engineering standpoint," Woo told Android Central, "And so that's probably true, because as you see we launched Nexus 4 and 5, and now launched [Nexus 5X]. So that was our intention, and it looks like it's working as well."

On the inside the Nexus 4's Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM were absolutely top-notch, though there were two somewhat controversial hardware choices made for a phone launching at the end of 2012. The base model of the Nexus 4 only had 8GB of storage (with no SD card slot), and also didn't have LTE support (just HSPA+42). The former was somewhat mitigated by a $50 bump getting you 16GB of storage, but for those who had been told by their carrier (and Google with the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon) that LTE was the way of the future it didn't quite sit right with many to be stuck on HSPA+.

2012 was the year of cheap and cheerful Nexus devices.

Even with those two follies aside, the Nexus 4 was well received because of its price. Starting at $299 completely unlocked was really unheard of for a device with such solid build quality and internal specs, and was a notable diversion from the high prices of the previous Nexus phones. When paired up with the $199 Nexus 7 launch from earlier this year, it marked an important change of direction for Google with its Nexus devices.

But perhaps just as important as the quality and value of the Nexus 4 itself was Google's approach to selling it. This was the first year that Google was selling its Nexus devices directly rather than just through partners, meaning you could go over to Google Play and buy a Nexus 4 completely unlocked and untampered with. While most consumers were buying phones on-contract from their carrier, there's no denying that the Nexus 4 pre-empted the current trend towards cheap unlocked handsets with finely-balanced specs.

And finally, a glowing zinc eyeball

Sometimes Nexus devices go the way of the Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 — popular devices released to critical acclaim and relative success at retail. Other times things go the way of the Nexus Q.

Nexus Q

Google's ill-fated streaming sphere, a precursor to the Chromecast, was unveiled at the I/O 2012 conference and remains largely forgotten today. Essentially, it was an Android-powered streaming ball that contained the guts of a Galaxy Nexus and sold for $299. Despite the Q's prominent place at I/O, which included an enormous novelty Nexus Q on a metal arm, the consensus was that it did too little and cost way too much. It was canned shortly after announcement, and devices were shipped free of charge to pre-order customers.

So long, Nexus Q. We hardly knew you.

Jelly Beans

NEXT: The Jelly Bean Era

In the next installment of our Android History series, we'll see how fierce competition among Android device makers 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.

READ PART 6: The Jelly Bean Era


Words: Phil Nickinson, Alex Dobie, Andrew Martonik and Russell Holly
Design: Derek Kessler and Jose Negron
Series Editor: Alex Dobie