Wireless Network Administration: Android Phone Basics

In many ways, Android phones are similar to the iPhone. Like the iPhone, Android phones feature a touch-screen display, have built-in MP3 music players, and provide access to a large library of downloadable third-party applications. In essence, Android phones are competitors to the iPhone.

However, there are crucial differences between Android phones and the iPhone. The most important difference — in many ways the only important difference — is that Android phones are based on an open-source operating system that is derived from the Linux operating system and can be extended and adapted to work on a wide variety of hardware devices from different vendors.

With the iPhone, you’re locked in to Apple hardware and the AT&T cellular network. With an Android phone, you can buy hardware from a variety of different manufacturers, and you can use the phone on a variety of different cellular networks. In all, there are about 20 different Android-based phones available on the market, supported by several dozen different cellular providers.

Most people associate the Android operating system with Google, and it’s true that Google is the driving force behind Android. However, the Android operating system is actually an organization called the Open Handset Alliance (OHA).

Google still plays a major role in the development of Android, but there are actually more than 50 companies involved in the OHA, including hardware manufacturers such as HTC, Intel, and Motorola, software companies such as Google and eBay, and mobile phone operators such as T-Mobile and Sprint-Nextel.

Technically speaking, Android is more than an operating system: It’s a complete software stack which consists of several key components that work together to create the complete Android platform:

  • The operating system core, which is based on the popular Linux operating system.

  • A middleware layer, which provides drivers and other support code that enable the operating system core to work with the hardware devices that make up a complete phone, such as a touch-sensitive display, the cell phone radio, the speaker and microphone, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networking components, and so on.

  • A set of core applications that the user interacts with to make phone calls, read e-mail, send text messages, take pictures, and so on.

  • A Software Developers Kit (SDK) that lets third-party software developers create their own applications to run on an Android phone, as well as a marketplace where the applications can be marketed and sold, much like the iStore lets iPhone developers market and sell applications for the iPhone.

Besides the basic features provided by all operating systems, here are a few of the bonus features found within the Android software stack:

  • An optimized graphical display engine that can produce sophisticated 2D and 3D graphics

  • GPS capabilities that provide location-awareness that can be integrated with applications such as Google Maps

  • Compass and accelerometer capabilities that can determine whether the phone is in motion and in which direction it’s pointed

  • A built-in SQL database server for data storage

  • Support for several different network technologies, including 3G, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi

  • Built-in media support including common formats for still images, audio, and video files