When Google first showed off Android, the company showed it running on a device very similar to Blackberries or Nokia E-class devices of the time. This device was the Google Sooner—an OMAP850 device built by HTC with no touchscreen or Wi-Fi. This was the Android reference device…and the device Google originally built the OS on.
Recently, I got access to a Google Sooner running a very early version of Android. With all the recent information coming out of the Oracle vs. Google trial, I thought it would be interesting to take you on a brief tour of the OS. The build of Android this is running was built on May 15, 2007, which is four months after the iPhone announced. The first M3 version of Android announced in November 2007, and Android 1.0 did not come until a year later….
The Google Sooner, aka the HTC EXCA 300, runs on an OMAP850 with 64MB RAM, and it comes both black and white colors. It has a 320×240 LCD screen (non-touch) and a 1.3 megapixel camera sensor on the back, which supports video recording. Its curvy profile is surprisingly light and has a certain quality to it. It has a full QWERTY keyboard, four-way d-pad, four system buttons (menu, back, home, and favorites), and call/end call buttons. Inside is a 2G radio, which is capable of EDGE speeds, but no Wi-Fi or 3G. It has a mini-SD slot (not micro-SD) and a mini-USB port.
The device runs build htc-2065.0.8.0.0, which was built on May 15, 2007. This means it is much earlier than any previous look we have had on Android to date—a good six months before the milestone 3 (M3) version of Android (the initial release) announced.
This is the primary interface to Android: You get a handful of gadgets (a clock, for example, and applications that can provide their own), and a Google Search bar (that pops up when you hit the down arrow). There is no conventional home screen with widgets. This is literally all you get when you turn on the device. It was an OS designed to search Google from the very start.
Hit the Home button and a drawer of apps shows up; this appears to be the Shortcuts bar. Any time you are inside an app, you can hit the Menu key and add the app to this. You can also add specific activities in an app to the Favorites bar, such as Bluetooth settings, which is similar to those allowed on Windows Phone 7. You can also access your notifications and Cell/Battery settings from the Shortcuts bar.
Hit the down arrow, and then the Shortcuts bar expands to show all applications installed on the system. This acts just as you would expect from a 2006-era non-touch device. There are no sorting or view options; what you see is what you get. The applications drawer appears as an overlay, so you can access it from any app without navigating back to a home screen.
Funnily enough, a second “All Applications” screen is housed inside an app. It has a slightly different look and feel, but works the same.
Future home screen
If you remember the M3 version of Android, as shown in the original announcement video, it had a very different home screen. This home screen actually exists on this Sooner’s build of the OS, but as an app. I imagine it was not finished yet, and as they prototyped this new home screen, they just left it as an app you could launch (similar to how you can have multiple launchers on Android today). Here you have the shortcut dock across the bottom of the home screen. Eventually, this became the traditional home screen we know today by the time Android released.
The browser on the Sooner is based on WebKit [ Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh ; U; Intel Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/522+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Safari/419.3 ], and it seems to pretend to be a Mac (perhaps to help mask itself, since this is many months before Android was announced). Browsing is a painful and slow experience, even though rendering is not too bad.
A rudimentary Gmail app is included with basic access to your email. This is a far cry from Gmail on Android today.
Here are just a few of the included apps; some work, some do not, and some work partially, but all are very rudimentary at this stage. I am not sure if this was before or after The Astonishing Tribe [re]designed Android, but I am betting before. Although Maps, YouTube, and Google Earth come on this device, I was not able to get any of them working to show you (Maps and YouTube launch, but neither seem to be able to access content.) It is quite possible that the server endpoints they used for testing no longer resolve.
This does not quite work in my build, but here is what the error looks like:
It is clear that Android was designed to a completely different target before the iPhone released. What we see here would have fitted perfectly with the world of Symbian and BlackBerry. This early build of Android is in fact even less capable and less mature than the 2004 release of Symbian Series 90 (Hildon), which is the OS that runs on the Nokia 7700 and 7710—Nokia’s first, and only, pre-iPhone touchscreen smartphones. It is not hard to see that the iPhone really changed the thinking across the entire industry and caused everybody to start from scratch. Android, webOS, Windows Phone 7, Windows 8, and BlackBerry 10— all of these exist because of the iPhone, and standing on its shoulders, they have made some amazing and unique contributions to the ecosystem.
As I mentioned in my Úll talk last week, it became so clear the moment we saw the iPhone for the first time that everything beyond this point would be completely different. It was not just about smartphones; it was about the future of computing. We live in a world that would have seemed distantly futuristic only five years ago, thanks to all these OSes. It is amazing how far we have come in such a short time, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.