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Android co-founder says mobile OS was originally designed for cameras

By dpreview staff on Apr 16, 2013 at 19:34 GMT

Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android, claims that the popular mobile operating system was originally designed for digital cameras, not phones. In an interview published by PC World, Rubin said that the original concept, as pitched to investors back in 2004, was for 'a camera platform with a cloud portion for storing images online'. By the time Google acquired Android in 2005, however, the plan had changed. Rubin became a Google executive following the acquisition and Android was repurposed, to be developed for mobile handsets. 

Andy Rubin co-founded Android and became a Google executive in 2005, following Android's acquisition by the search giant in 2005. He stepped down from Google on April 16th.

According to the PCWorld interview, the strategy changed after Rubin's team looked in more detail at the market, and saw that growth in digital cameras was slowing. In contrast, interest in smartphones was starting to intensify as hardware costs came down. Rather than charge for its operating system, Android decided that the OS should be free  'because we knew the industry was price-sensitive'.

Interestingly, given Apple's pivotal role in bringing smartphones into the mainstream, Rubin claims that back then 'I was worried about Microsoft and I was worried about Symbian. I wasn't worried about iPhone yet'. 

The HTC Dream (T-Mobile T1 in Europe) was the first phone to run Android. Released in 2008, the Dream had a physical QWERTY keyboard and was powered by a 528 MHz processor.
Samsung's Galaxy camera was announced last year - eight years after Rubin's original pitch for Android as a camera operating system.

The rest, of course, is history. As the interview points out, early Android estimates of 9% market share in the US and Europe by 2010 have since been proven wildly conservative - 'Android hit 72% last year'. Only now are we seeing Rubin's original vision of Android as a camera OS come true, in products like Samsung's Galaxy Camera and the Nikon Coolpix S800c. And as Samsung and Nikon know, even after eight years of technological development, it isn't easy (or cheap) to mate what is now a mobile OS to compact cameras. 

Interestingly, DPReview has spoken to a chip manufacturer that makes System on Chip (SoC) modules for digital cameras which claims that it has seen little demand for versions of its modules that incorporate the Android OS. Instead, we are told, camera manufacturers are asking for SoC solutions that incorporate connectivity options and higher processing power, but minus the expensive and power-sapping operating system. So maybe Android's shift in emphasis from cameras to smartphones back in 2004 was a smart move...


Total comments: 20
By HowaboutRAW (Apr 17, 2013)

Quote: "Rubin's team looked in more detail at the market, and saw that growth in digital cameras was slowing."

Right because in '04/5 there were huge numbers of larger sensored mirrorless systems available, not.

And finding a DSLR that shot noise free at ISO 3200 was inexpensive and easy, not.

And Sony had picked up the pieces of the camera divisions of Konica & Minolta, not. (Yes, I know Sony sold digicams back then.)

And the shooting good video on a DSLR or mirrorless system (hey the Epson RD-1 counts as mirrorless) was possible, not.

No wonder this team didn't foresee what Apple could do for the smartphone/pda market.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy enough with the wifi Android 4 tablet I used--though Google slows it more than needed.

But then there are things like this, I know not exactly Google's fault, but still the iPhone+Blackberry OSes are much more secure:

By peevee1 (Apr 17, 2013)

"And as Samsung and Nikon know, even after eight years of technological development, it isn't easy (or cheap) to mate what is now a mobile OS to compact cameras. "

"Even" should not be here. It is exactly THANKS to all the bloatware added to Android to support ad-financed OS for phones and tablets it has become complex and heavy for cameras.

By HowaboutRAW (Apr 17, 2013)

That so called bloatware is put there by the phone/tablet makers, a camera maker wouldn't have to use it.

I'm more perplexed by the idea that in 2005 the digital camera market was slowing idea.

My experience with a tablet running Android 4 is that I wouldn't want to use it with buttons and dials on the back of a camera to control the camera.

1 upvote
By peevee1 (Apr 18, 2013)

There is plenty added by google too. I use pure Android 4.2.2, and there are plenty of stuff there absolutely unnecessary for a camera, just consuming my battery. To clean that out for a lean installation is a Herculean task, and still the core for most applications, Dalvik VM, is inefficient relative to native applications.

By HowaboutRAW (Apr 18, 2013)


Well you can root the system--a headache.

Or everytime your start it up, you can go into Settings-Developer Options-Limit Background Processes and pick a number.

By JadedGamer (Apr 19, 2013)

The thing about rooting Android 4.x is that the device drivers are mostly distributed as binaries, and unless Samsung and Nikon find it in their hearts to distribute those drivers outside of their own updates, your rooted camera stops taking pictures...

By Timmbits (Apr 17, 2013)

@DPR: so you guys categorize this as camera news, and 500px as "connect".
I would have thought it the other way around.
BTW, your filter still doesn't remember the settings to exclude connect news.

By peevee1 (Apr 17, 2013)

Aren't "Samsung's Galaxy Camera and the Nikon Coolpix S800c", you know, actually Digital Photo cameras, and 500px is, you know, a website?

1 upvote
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (Apr 17, 2013)

It's nice to see the Android founders admit what everyone already knows.

Any developer can tell you it's glaringly apparent that Android was never meant to run phones or tablets. It's like a magnificent seven-layer cake of pure hack.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
By Benarm (Apr 17, 2013)

No way Canon or Nikon would allow an open source operating system to run on their DSLRs, and let third party developers to add features. That would be against their market fragmentation policies. Case in point: heavily crippled 6D by Canon.

By bobbarber (Apr 17, 2013)

I used to think this too. In fact, I still do! To be fair, there is another issue though, and that is the warranty with new equipment. With cameras that have been hacked, for example the Panasonic GH2, there are hardware concerns, specifically overheating, caused by recording at too high rates, etc. So really, a manufacturer would have to sell cameras that could be hacked with a voided warranty, or something like that.

By ptodd (Apr 18, 2013)

People do hack their Canon cameras, perhaps potentially leading to damage; I don't know... if they exposed a safe public API (safe in the sense that it would prevent things that would lead to overheating etc), then it would allow people greater ability to tinker without any need of warranty voiding.

By EricWN (Apr 16, 2013)

Yet another boring story from mobile phone nerds. Please bring more on actual photo gear, this constant spam with android here and there is disgustingly boring and obvious.

1 upvote
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Apr 16, 2013)


By steve_hoge (Apr 16, 2013)

This story did appear (appropriately) in - don't know why it's posted here as well.

1 upvote
By Camediadude (Apr 17, 2013)

Goodness knows I have done my share of biatching and moaning on here about dumb articles lately, but THIS is not one of them.

If anything posted in recent times is relevant to today's hyper-dynamic world of digital photography, this story is.

Kudos to Dpreview for actually something relevant, a nice change!

By Jellytime (Apr 17, 2013)

There is "android"in the headline. How hard is it to not click on the link?

By yslee1 (Apr 17, 2013)

*moan moan whine whinge moan*

I swear, there are a lot of conservative technophobes here...

By bobbarber (Apr 17, 2013)

Yes, this is relevant, and how.

By solarider (Apr 16, 2013)

Thank you for the very concise spot light on the subject!

1 upvote
Total comments: 20