What do we even mean when we say ‘Android’?

One word, a multiplicity of meanings

The thing that’s given me greatest amusement at this year’s Google I/O has been the number of iPhone users raising an eyebrow at Google’s new focus on digital well-being and openly declaring that Android has leapfrogged iOS. As an avid Android acolyte, my reflexive response has been to say that Android has already been ahead of iOS in a number of important respects like its first-party apps, cloud services, and digital assistant. But then that got me thinking: which Android? Is it the Android on your 2016 Samsung Galaxy A7, or the Android on the latest Huawei P20 Pro, or the Android on Google’s own Pixel devices? These are all different flavors of supposedly the same thing, but I’m not so sure.

I’m starting to believe we need a more nuanced, differentiated language to discuss developments within the Android ecosystem. The language of the past — the one where “Windows” broadly meant the same thing no matter the manufacturer of the PC, and “iOS” still means more or less the same experience across a majority of iPhones — is too narrow to cover the multiplicity of devices, businesses, and experiences “Android” represents.

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