Ah, memories. With the frenetic pace at which Android has evolved over the past decade, the experience of using the platform today is pretty darn different from the Android-using adventure of even just a few years ago.
And it's not just the operating system itself that's changed. As mobile tech in general has matured and Android's native features have bit by bit expanded, the types of apps we rely on have also shifted considerably. Priorities have shuffled, standards have changed, and developers have come and gone. As a result, some of the most popular titles from Android's earlier days are now mere memories — and pretty fuzzy ones, at that.
As part of our jog down memory lane this week, it's time to look back at some of the apps that once defined Android but have since slipped out of the spotlight — or even out of existence entirely.
Let the reunion begin!
1. ADW Launcher
Before there was Nova Launcher, before there was Action Launcher, there was ADW — the de facto canvas for customizing your home screen back in the Android 2.x era. The app was chock full of options for taking control of your Android phone's interface and making it look and work the way you wanted.
ADW's creator, Ander Webbs, actually resumed development on the app some years back after an extended hiatus (caused by an acquisition attempt gone awry — long story), but for most of us, the era of ADW will forever be associated with the green-tinted days of Gingerbread.
Alongside ADW was the other custom launcher of the Gingerbread days: Federico Carnales' LauncherPro. The fizzling out of Launcher Pro is still a bit of a mystery today; the app just stopped getting updated, and its developer essentially disappeared.
3. Advanced Task Manager
Used to be folks loved manually killing apps from Android's active memory, despite any counsel against the practice. So for some time, apps like Advanced Task Manager topped the charts of the Android Market — as it was then known — and the minds of many an Android fan.
4. My Backup Pro
Android's built-in backup mechanisms weren't always so spiffy. Back in the platform's earlier days, power users would turn to apps like Rerware's My Backup Pro to back up data like photos, music, messages, contacts, and even applications. You'd have to save the data to your local storage first, of course, and then manually copy it to somewhere like Dropbox.
Amazingly, My Backup Pro still exists and is still being updated — even if it doesn't look like it (and even if its raison d'être in 2017 is somewhat unclear).
5. Car Locator
Edward Kim's Car Locator was the business for years — the hot, must-have app that'd save your parking location and then help you get back to it later. At the time, such sorcery seemed downright magical.
These days, that same function is built right into Google Maps — though Car Locator does still exist in the Play Store, with its last update in mid-2014.
'Twas a time when tethering was an act that made you feel like a rebel outlaw, at least for a little while. Way before carriers started embracing tethering (and the now-far-more common Wi-Fi hotspot function that followed), Android users had to find ways to fly under the radar in order share a phone's data connection with other devices (at least, until the carriers started playing dirty right back).
The biggest name in the Android tethering game was PdaNet, which used a combination of an Android app and a desktop app — along with some insanely complicated settings, by today's tethering standards — to get the job done.
PdaNet is still in the Play Store and receiving updates.
7. Astro File Manager
When you needed to manage files on your phone in Android's early days, Astro File Manager was where you turned.
The app is still actively developed, but it hasn't fallen on many must-have lists in many a year.
Two things to know about early Android devices: One, internal storage was never enough. And two, external storage was often an option.
Consequently, apps like the aptly named App2SD came into popularity as a way for folks to manually move apps off of a phone's internal storage and onto its SD card to free up space.
(And yes, in case you're wondering, remembering the days when something like that was relevant is one of those things that's gonna make us all seem unfathomably old one day soon.)
9. Dolphin Browser (HD, Mini)
Before all the big-name browsers made their way onto Android — including, yes, Google's own Chrome — Dolphin Browser was the app to have for users in the know. Its various incarnations offered then-advanced (and tough to find!) features like tabbed browsing, gesture-based navigation, and multitouch support (which, believe it or not, wasn't available natively at the time).
Dolphin's still around and going strong, but with players like Chrome, Firefox, and now even Microsoft's new Edge browser available on Android, the days of a small indie developer dominating the dojo are but a distant memory.
10. Extended Controls
Android didn't always have a Quick Settings panel with easy access to common system functions. Instead, apps like Extended Controls let you build your own custom "Android power widget," as we'd call 'em, and put whatever toggles you wanted right on your home screen.
Hey, we can chuckle now, but back in the digital Stone Age of 2010, it was downright revolutionary.
11. Beautiful Widgets
Speaking of widgets, one of the early standouts for custom widget creation was an app called Beautiful Widgets. You could combine power toggles with things like clocks and forecasts and fully control the way everything looked.
According to its developer, Beautiful Widgets was the first Android app ever to achieve a million paid downloads. It's still present in the Play Store but hasn't been updated in over a year.
12. Folder Organizer
I won't beat around the bush: Android's native folder system used to kinda suck. An app called Folder Organizer injected some much-needed power into the setup with oodles of customization options — settings to change a folder's icon and appearance (as opposed to seeing the then-static and bland folder icon for every single folder you made) and to tweak how the items within were sorted (again, you have to think of this in 2010 terms).
Folder Organizer could even let you create permanently expanded folders on your home screen, if you really wanted to get wild.
You can still download Folder Organizer today, if you must, though the app has remained untouched since 2015.
Android battery life used to be a constant battle. Okay, in some ways, it still is — but not at anywhere the level we prehistoric phone-carrying bipeds experienced back in the early 2000s.
For many power users, JuiceDefender was the answer. This spectacular video from Jonny Ive's long-lost cousin tells you pretty much everything you need to know:
Like many other apps in this list, JuiceDefender is still in the Play Store, though without an update since 2012.
14. Setting Profiles
Do you remember Locale? If you do, then you probably remember its spiritual successor, the awkwardly named Setting Profiles. Setting Profiles was kind of like an early version of Tasker. It let you create complex if-then-style rules that'd automate your phone in some pretty impressive ways.
The app's 2012 self is still in existence, frozen in time in the Play Store.
15. Google Shopper
For a while, the absolute coolest thing you could do with a smartphone was whip it out in a physical retail store, scan the barcode of some product on the shelf, and let an app like Google Shopper pull up online pricing comparisons. (The third-party ShopSavvy app worked in a similar way.)
16. Places Directory
Another Google-made app, Places Directory let you browse businesses around you — restaurants, theaters, you name it. You could even pull up ratings and photos with a couple taps.
Given how many outlets offer this same sort of function today — including Google's own Search and Maps destinations — it's pretty obvious why this once-futuristic-seeming app didn't stand the test of the time.
WidgetLocker brought custom widgets to the lock screen before Google ever made that a native Android feature (and then soon after killed that as a native Android feature). It was quite the tool for Android enthusiasts who liked to customize and personalize. And while it's been dead and gone for some time now, you can still find its product page on the site of Nova Launcher developer Kevin Barry — who, yes, was the guy behind the app.
Way before Android malware became a massive boogeyman-oriented business, apps like WaveSecure filled in the gaps in early Android security and gave users a way to back up data as well as remotely track and find devices, download files, and wipe local storage. While Android now offers all that stuff at the OS level, at the time, third-party apps were the only way to create such nerve-calming safety nets.
WaveSecure was acquired by McAfee in 2010. The name was eventually phased out and the product evolved into the standard silly security suite that's both ubiquitous and superfluous in today's environment.
It was "iTunes for Android" — you know, back when such a notion sounded both necessary and at least somewhat desirable.
(And yes, it's evidently still alive and kickin'. Who knew?!)
20. Google Reader
Ah, Google Reader. Simpler times. Here's a little-known fact: You can actually still find the official Reader app in the Play Store and even install it to your current device. You'll only get as far as the sign-in screen before hitting an error, but it'll still bring you back to your innocent ol' 2011 self for at least a few minutes.
Let's pour one out for our fallen comrade, shall we?
More Android nostalgia
- Android nostalgia: 13 once-trumpeted features that quietly faded away
- Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to today