The last dessert to grace the name of a version of Google's Android operating system will officially be pie. At a meeting in the Android team's new office in Mountain View last month, we sat down with some of the Googlers responsible for handling Android's biggest rebrand since, well, Android.
Desserts have been a part of Android from (almost) the beginning. Android 1.0, a version of the software nobody ever really used, was internally known as Astroid, but every release that followed carried a desert. In total, Android had 14 (official) dessert-themed releases: Cupcake (1.5), Donut (1.6), Eclair (2.0-1), Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3), Honeycomb (3.0-2), Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), Jelly Bean (4.1-3), KitKat (4.4), Lollipop (5.0-1), Marshmallow (6.0), Nougat (7.0-1), Oreo (8.0-1), to today's Android 9 Pie. With Android 10, that comes to an end. And that brings us to the other news: Android Q's official name is simply Android 10, which makes sense Google basically told us that it was in the last beta.
It wasn't lost on Google that the names have long been a part of Android fandom. Some people even went out of their way to visit and be photographed next to the famous statues Google commissioned for each named release, and the names have become a source of anticipation and spectacle. In the past few years, though, Google's enthusiasm for them does seem to have waned. Instead of themed versions of the iconic Android robot (known by many as the bugdroid), generic versions of the character were posed alongside sculptures of the named dessert, apart from a strange deviation with Oreo's superhero Android.
Just finding names of desserts has created more and more difficulty for the Android team, as not only were options dwindling, but global branding concerns were beginning to arise. Android is an OS used by billions people of people in every corner of the earth, and that resulted in some strange marketing considerations. For example, does someone in the Philippines know what nougat is? Has a person in Zimbabwe ever eaten a fruit pie? On the surface, I think Google has a point here: Android is a global brand, and it should be branded in a globally recognizable way. But I do find it stretches credulity — and evokes a particularly painful sort of political correctness — when Google suggests that Android's dessert names were somehow alienating people. Perhaps this makes sense from a very theoretical marketing exercise perspective, but Google isn't selling Android's name to anyone, and it's not selling the platform. I don't want to get too hung up on this, but of course the first question that needed to be answered about the change was "Why?," and well, that's the answer we got: inclusivity.
As the team explained the decision to us, I theorized what the more practical reasons for the change in naming strategy were, and I think there are three very big ones which are self-evident. First, it's really hard to find a good, easily-recognizable dessert that starts with "Q," a problem that only gets worse as you get farther along in the alphabet. Second, the number "10" provides a convenient point at which to change things up, given its significance (well, at least for those of us base-10 elitists). Third, you've only got so many letters — what happens after Z? Take all of these considerations together, and it becomes kind of clear Google wasn't going to find a better time to drop the desserts; the band-aid had to be ripped. It's also been increasingly clear that the attention Google has received for some of its more recent Android name choices hasn't been overwhelmingly positive. Risking such negative reactions — reactions that then become associated with Android and Google itself — really doesn't make any marketing sense.
Of course, in any greater sense, all of this is inconsequential. Google will keep releasing versions of Android, they will continue (for now) to have version numbers, and nothing about the philosophy of the platform itself will change as a result. I don't think anyone is going to switch to iOS because Android 10 doesn't have a dessert attached to it. That's not a real thing. And while I can empathize with those who are disappointed with Google's decision, I also find it a bit difficult to fathom having quite so much personally invested in this little ritual.
And while the dessert names are being retired, the iconic statues will be sticking around... sort of. Google has commissioned a giant number "10" (yes, really) that will sit in the lobby of the team's new office. Somehow I doubt it will have the charm of the Jelly Bean bugdroid, but then again, neither did the Pie statue.