Android Versions

Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to Pie

Explore Android's ongoing evolution with this visual timeline of versions, starting B.C. (before Cupcake) and going all the way to 2018's Pie.

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The release was Google's first foray into claiming a full panel of the home screen for its services, too — at least, for users of its own Nexus phones and those who chose to download its first-ever standalone launcher.

Android version 4.4 KitKat JR Raphael / IDG

The lightened KitKat home screen and its dedicated Google Now panel.

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 9.0: Pie

The newest addition to our Android versions list is the freshly baked Android Pie. Android 9 entered the world in early August 2018 after several months of evolution in public beta previews.

Pie's most transformative change is its new gesture navigation system, which trades the traditional Android Back, Home and Overview keys for a single multifunctional Home button and a series of gesture-based commands.

android versions pie JR Raphael/IDG

Android 9 introduces a new gesture-driven system for getting around phones, with an elongated Home button and a small Back button that appears as needed.

Android 9 boasts numerous other noteworthy productivity features, including a universal suggested-reply system for messaging notifications, a more effective method of screenshot management, and more intelligent systems for power management and screen brightness control. And, of course, there's no shortage of smaller but still-significant advancements hidden throughout Pie's filling, such as a smarter way to handle Wi-Fi hotspots, a welcome twist to Android's Battery Saver mode and a useful new touch for fingerprint sensors.

Android 9 has plenty of under-the-hood improvements as well, including a variety of significant privacy and security enhancements. And the software sports its share of visual tweaks, such as an updated look for notifications and the neighboring Quick Settings panel and an ambitious series of added animations throughout the interface.

Pie will eventually include a new dashboard of "digital well-being" controls intended to help with the ever-present challenge of balancing the digital and physical world. As of Pie's launch, that feature is available only for Pixel users as part of a limited beta program.

Here's also a short video discussion about Android Pie (before its name was officially unveiled on Aug. 6).

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