Android Versions

Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to 11

Explore Android's ongoing evolution with this visual timeline of versions, starting B.C. (Before Cupcake) and going all the way to 2020's Android 11 release.

Android Versions

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Android versions 5.0 and 5.1: Lollipop

Google essentially reinvented Android — again — with its Android 5.0 Lollipop release in the fall of 2014. Lollipop launched the still-present-today Material Design standard, which brought a whole new look that extended across all of Android, its apps and even other Google products.

The card-based concept that had been scattered throughout Android became a core UI pattern — one that would guide the appearance of everything from notifications, which now showed up on the lock screen for at-a-glance access, to the Recent Apps list, which took on an unabashedly card-based appearance.

Android versions 5.0 and 5.1 Lollipop JR Raphael / IDG

Lollipop and the onset of Material Design.

Lollipop introduced a slew of new features into Android, including truly hands-free voice control via the "OK, Google" command, support for multiple users on phones and a priority mode for better notification management. It changed so much, unfortunately, that it also introduced a bunch of troubling bugs, many of which wouldn't be fully ironed out until the following year's 5.1 release.

Android version 6.0: Marshmallow

In the grand scheme of things, 2015's Marshmallow was a fairly minor Android release — one that seemed more like a 0.1-level update than anything deserving of a full number bump. But it started the trend of Google releasing one major Android version per year and that version always receiving its own whole number.

Marshmallow's most attention-grabbing element was a screen-search feature called Now On Tap — something that, as I said at the time, had tons of potential that wasn't fully tapped. Google never quite perfected the system and ended up quietly retiring its brand and moving it out of the forefront the following year.

Android version 6.0 Marshmallow JR Raphael / IDG

Marshmallow and the almost-brilliance of Google Now on Tap.

Android 6.0 did introduce some stuff with lasting impact, though, including more granular app permissions, support for fingerprint readers, and support for USB-C.

Android versions 7.0 and 7.1: Nougat

Google's 2016 Android Nougat releases provided Android with a native split-screen mode, a new bundled-by-app system for organizing notifications, and a Data Saver feature. Nougat added some smaller but still significant features, too, like an Alt-Tab-like shortcut for snapping between apps.

android version 7.0 Nougat JR Raphael / IDG

Android 7.0 Nougat and its new native split-screen mode.

Perhaps most pivotal among Nougat's enhancements, however, was the launch of the Google Assistant — which came alongside the announcement of Google's first fully self-made phone, the Pixel, about two months after Nougat's debut. The Assistant would go on to become a critical component of Android and most other Google products and is arguably the company's foremost effort today.

Android version 8.0 and 8.1: Oreo

Android Oreo added a variety of niceties to the platform, including a native picture-in-picture mode, a notification snoozing option, and notification channels that offer fine control over how apps can alert you.

Android version 8.0 Oreo JR Raphael / IDG

Oreo adds several significant features to the operating system, including a new picture-in-picture mode.

The 2017 release also included some noteworthy elements that furthered Google's goal of aligning Android and Chrome OS and improving the experience of using Android apps on Chromebooks, and it was the first Android version to feature Project Treble — an ambitious effort to create a modular base for Android's code with the hope of making it easier for device-makers to provide timely software updates.

Android version 9: Pie

The freshly baked scent of Android Pie, a.k.a. Android 9, wafted into the Android ecosystem in August of 2018. Pie's most transformative change was its hybrid gesture/button navigation system, which traded Android's traditional Back, Home, and Overview keys for a large, multifunctional Home button and a small Back button that appeared alongside it as needed.

android versions pie JR Raphael/IDG

Android 9 introduced a short-lived setup for getting around phones with a mix of both gestures and buttons.

Pie included some noteworthy productivity features, too, such as a universal suggested-reply system for messaging notifications, a new dashboard of Digital Wellbeing controls, and more intelligent systems for power and screen brightness management. And, of course, there was no shortage of smaller but still-significant advancements hidden throughout Pie's filling, including a smarter way to handle Wi-Fi hotspots, a welcome twist to Android's Battery Saver mode, and a variety of privacy and security enhancements.

Android version 10

Google released Android 10 — the first Android version to shed its letter and be known simply by a number, with no dessert-themed moniker attached — in September of 2019; it's the Android version now shipping on most new devices, and it's slowly but surely making its way to existing phones around the world.

The software brings about a totally reimagined interface for Android gestures, this time doing away with the tappable Back button altogether and relying on a completely swipe-driven approach to system navigation. (If you so choose, that is; unlike Pie, Android 10 also includes the traditional Android three-button navigation system as an option on all phones.)

Under the hood, Android 10 introduces a new setup for hot-fix-style updates that'll eventually allow for faster and more consistent rollouts of small, narrowly focused patches. And the software has plenty of other quietly important improvements, including an updated permissions system that gives you more control over exactly how and when apps are able to access location data as well as an expanded system for protecting unique device identifiers (which can be used to track a device's activity over time).

android versions 10 privacy JR Raphael/IDG

Android 10's new privacy permissions model adds some much-needed nuance into the realm of location data.

Beyond that, Android 10 includes a system-wide dark theme, a new Focus Mode that lets you limit distractions from specific apps with the tap of an on-screen button, and a long-overdue overhaul of Android's sharing menu. It also lays the groundwork for a new Live Caption feature that'll allow you to generate on-the-fly visual captions for any media playing on your phone — videos, podcasts, or even just regular ol' voice recordings — though that feature wasn't available immediately upon the software's launch and is expected to arrive starting with Pixel phones sometime later this year.

Android version 11 (Beta)

Android 11 is shaping up to be a pretty substantial Android update both under the hood and on the surface. The software was released as a public beta in early June and is expected to be finished and ready for (theoretically) widespread rollouts sometime in the late summer or early fall.

The version's most significant changes revolve around privacy: The update builds upon the expanded permissions system introduced in Android 10 and adds in the ability for users to grant apps certain permissions — those related to location access, camera access, and microphone access — only on a limited, single-use basis.

android 11 one time permission JR Raphael/IDG

Android 11 lets you grant an app permission to see your location or access your camera or microphone only for a single session of use.

Android 11 also pushes the background location permission even deeper into the system and makes it more difficult for apps to request (and thus less likely for users to activate inadvertently). And it introduces a new feature in which apps that have gone unopened for a matter of months will automatically have their permissions revoked unless you actively opt to reauthorize them.

Beyond that, Android 11 removes an app's ability to see what other apps are installed on your phone — something that was actually possible up until this release — and it limits the ways apps are able to interact with your local storage in order to better protect your information.

Importantly but invisibly, Android 11 more than doubles the number of once-OS-bundled elements that now exist as their own standalone modules — like apps in the Play Store, basically — and thus can be updated directly by Google, frequently and universally and without the need for any carrier or manufacturer involvement. And as for the more visible, user-facing features, Android 11 refines the system notification area to emphasize and simplify conversation-related alerts; it introduces a new streamlined media player that contains controls for all audio- and video-playing apps in a single space; and it adds in a new contextual menu of connected-device controls for any smart products associated with your account.

Last but not least, Android 11 marks the long-awaited debut of Bubbles — a new kind of multitasking system first discussed in 2019 but then put on the back burner until now. Once apps start supporting the system, Bubbles will allow you to pop conversations (and possibly other types of content) out into floating windows that appear on top of whatever else you're doing and can be condensed down into small, floating bubbles that remain easily accessible for expansion.

Android's new Bubbles feature was first introduced during development of Android 10 — known as "Android Q" at the time — and will finally make its public debut with this year's Android 11 release.

Android 11 has plenty of other small but significant improvements, and it's possible we'll see even more between now and the software's final, finished form. The full release should show up sometime between July and September, if Google's original timeline holds true.

More Android nostalgia

This article was originally published in November 2017 and most recently updated in June 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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