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 (developer preview)

Android 11 may still be in its infancy, but the in-progress update has already made history by being the earliest developer preview the platform's ever seen. Google announced the first Android 11 preview on February 19 of this year, catching most of the tech community off guard with its nearly-a-month-ahead-of-typical-schedule arrival.

The first Android 11 preview is a preview through and through; it's rough around the edges, not meant for general use, and almost certainly not the complete picture of what the final software will be. Still, it gives us a broad glimpse at some of the themes and adjustments we can expect when the software's final version rolls around later this year.

Already, it's clear that privacy will be a prominent focus. The update builds upon the expanded permissions system introduced in Android 10 and adds in the ability for users to grant apps certain permissions only on a limited, single-use basis. As of now, that possibility is present with location access, camera access, and microphone access.

android 11 one time permission JR Raphael/IDG

With Android 11, you'll be able to grant an app permission to see your location or access your camera or microphone on a limited, one-time-use basis.

Along with the release, Google is clamping down on background location access in general and requiring all app developers to explicitly request the ability to see a user's location when their app isn't actively in use. By the end of the year, only apps whose requests have been approved as being reasonable and valid — by an actual person at Google! — will be able to detect location while running in the background.

Android 11 follows its predecessor's lead further by pulling more critical functions out of the actual operating system and restructuring them as standalone modules that can then be updated directly by Google, without the need for any carrier or manufacturer involvement. It introduces a number of interface enhancements, too, including Bubbles — a new kind of multitasking system first discussed in 2019 but then put on the back burner until now — as well as an expanded screen-capturing function, a more customizable system sharing menu, and an improved Dark Theme that's able to switch itself on and off automatically based on the time of day.

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.

Google expects to release two more developer previews of Android 11 followed by an initial beta version in May — when we'll likely see more of the software's new front-facing features. There'll be two near-final release-candidate builds over the summer, meanwhile, and then a final Android 11 release somewhere between July and September.

More Android nostalgia

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

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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