Different layers of the Android operating system

Since its introduction to the world in 2010 as a free open source operating system, Android has moved into the most popular mobile operating system for smartphone and tablets with a predominant market share in individual countries around the world. But, what is Android? And, more importantly, how does Android in one manufacturer’s phones and tablets differ from another?

 

Android is a Linux based operating system capable of providing a fast and seamless user interface and experience on smartphones and tablets, which typically sports a poorer processor and lower amount of memory than a full desktop and laptop. Hence, it is a low system footprint operating system with fewer system checkpoints compared to the heftier desktop operating system, Windows 10 Home, for example. Nevertheless, the firm adherence to the principle of sandbox between different apps for access to the common system functionalities such as file system, microphone, speakers, WiFi, Bluetooth, global positioning system (GPS) and near field communication antenna (NFC), helps make the operating system safe and secure in the context of no malware onboard.

 

Probe deeper, what is the structure of the Android operating system given that every operating system has a unique architecture? And, how do manufacturers’ Android differs from the stock Android available on Google Nexus and Pixel devices?

 

Basically, Android, whether manufacturers’ or stock version, comprises a core kernel as well as a skin (also known as application layer or user interface). More importantly, the user interface is stocked with drivers and small packages that allow the entire operating system to interact with the device’s hardware such that the entire device could be controlled from the buttons available on the user interface. Customization is the norm in Android, and which provides the diversity of user interfaces and experience as well as functionalities not available on the competing Apple’s iOS, and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform. In customizing the Android operating system, manufacturers typically provide an additional layer of encryption on the core kernel of the operating system, which could not be updated from either the manufacturer or Google. This practice helps provide an additional layer of security for the device in the face of increasing level of threats from hackers capable of breaking into many mobile devices through the use of hacker software available, for a price, on the dark web. The dark web itself is a misnomer, given that it is accessible on the Google search engine with significant amount of difficulty using the correct keywords.

Apart from the additional encryption, manufacturers also provide a customized skin for added functionalities and drivers needed for the specific hardware chosen for a tablet or smartphone. For example, many high end smartphones from major manufacturers come equipped with an extra rear camera; thus, additional software needs to be placed in the manufacturer’s skin, which sits on top of the Google skin. In general, system updates from the manufacturers’ update the manufacturers’ skin on Android.

 

In summary, the Linux based Android operating system, comprises a core kernel as well as a Google user interface, known as the skin. For manufacturers’ Android, which are usually one generation older than the stock Android available on Google’s devices, another skin containing the drivers and software for the customization intended by the manufacturer for operating the unique features and hardware on the device sit on top of the Google skin. Thus, Android is simply core kernel overlay by a Google skin, where a manufacturer skin sits on top of the Google stock Android of core kernel and Google skin. The rich diversity of hardware and devices available in the Android ecosystem meant that manufacturers provide different skins for their respective phones and tablets, where specific customizations are needed for different models. Hence, manufacturers’ Android devices are harder to break into from the hackers’ perspectives given the unique encryption of each skin on different models of phones and tablets as well as an additional lock on the core kernel. Finally, manufacturers’ devices are further protected by careful checks on the source code of the stock Android from Google, before their incorporation into the manufacturers’ line of products. This helps explain why there are only a few Android 6 devices from manufacturers when Android 7.1.2 is already available on Google’s Pixel devices.

 

Category: computer security, communication security,

Tags: Android, core kernel, skin, customization, encryption, sandbox, drivers, communication ports, stock Android, interface, operating system, system architecture,

 

 

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