Some years back, I came across two guys arguing online. One said that the Android Open Sourced Project (AOSP) was the same as the regular Android on our phones and the other guy said it was not. I had no idea what they were talking about and had to go do some serious research before I could get the gist of the conversation.
Recently, I was giving a talk and I mentioned the Android Open Sourced Project (AOSP) in passing. Someone called my attention to it and asked for some explanation. Turns out that, not a lot of people knew about it either.
So then, what is the Android Open Sourced Project (AOSP) and is it different from the Android on your phone?
Read: History of Android
Android Open Sourced Project (AOSP)
The AOSP is an initiative created to guide the development of the Android mobile platform. It is overseen by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). The OHA is a group of companies that use Android and are headed by Google.
Android is owned and developed by Google. AOSP is the “raw” or unfinished version of Android. Google provides it and uploads it online for free. As such, anyone with the technical know-how, from entire companies to individuals, is free to download the AOSP. They can then edit, recompile, and modify it as they choose. They are also free to review it and contribute new codes or features to it as well.
AOSP by itself is not very useful. Think of AOSP as raw ingredients for cooking food. Let us say rice, tomatoes, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, chicken etc. Technically, they are food but we cannot eat them in their raw state. They are going to have to be “cooked“. The same thing can be said about the AOSP.
AOSP is a very basic software and it is not the complete Android experience. Apart from the basic Android code and features, it contains nothing else. Therefore, anyone who wants to use the AOSP has to download this “raw” version and “cook” it.
On Google’s own Pixel devices, they use the pure AOSP software but have to add in a user interface (UI), device drivers, as well as their suite of apps like Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, etc. (GApps) and services known as GMS. Google’s finished version of AOSP is known as Stock Android.
Other companies who use AOSP like Samsung, Xiaomi, or Tecno each have to download AOSP and modify it as they deem fit. They could add new features, device drivers, software, apps, and UIs. Some of which may not be found on Stock Android. This is why even though Samsung and Xiaomi are both Android phones, they do not feel the same.
Android phones from different companies feel different. A great part of this is due to the different approaches each company takes towards modifying AOSP. This can especially be seen in the UIs. Just as the skin covers our bodies, so does the UI cover the Android software. As a result, these different AOSP modifications are known as Android Skins. Examples include MIUI, Poco UI, One UI, Oxygen OS, XoS, etc.
Unlike stock Android which has very few apps besides GMS and runs light, Android Skins on the other hand are packed full with a lot of software from their respective companies. This extra software is known as BLOATWARE. They make Android skins heavier and run slower than Stock Android.
Individual developers/programmers can also download AOSP and modify it for particular devices. Most of them would then put it up online for free. This is especially important if your parent company has stopped supporting your phone. These AOSP modifications done by independent programmers are known as CUSTOM ROMS. The very popular ones include Pixel Experience, Lineage OS, Evolution X, Havoc, Corvus, Revenge, etc. To use a custom ROM, you will have to root your phone.
As you can see, AOSP and Android are not the same thing. AOSP is the unfinished product whilst the Android on your phone is the finished version. AOSP does not contain device drivers, apps, or anything of the sort. It also does not contain Google apps (GApps) and services (GMS). The Android on your phone comes loaded with these apps.
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