Android Intelligence Analysis

Android 10 and the end of whimsy

By ending its long-standing naming system for Android versions, Google is eliminating something even less tangible.

Android Branding
Angel Arcones/JR Raphael (CC BY 2.0)

When I first heard about Google's plan to ditch the Android dessert naming system, my reaction was pretty minimal.

After all, the name of an Android version doesn't really mean that much. It's what's inside the Pie, the Oreo, the Ice Cream Sandwich that counts. So Android Q won't be Quindim, Quince, or Queen of Puddings (sigh — if only). It'll simply be "Android 10" instead. So what?

The more I've ruminated on the death of Android's dessert names, though, the more I've found myself feeling surprisingly sad at the loss. And the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized there's a very clear reason why "loss" seems like the best way to describe it.

To me, at least, Android's dessert names have always represented a certain intangible nugget of whimsy and silliness in a typically dry and humorless domain. They were a reminder that, sure, this may be the world's most widely used operating system, but it's still made by a gang of real people who don't take themselves too seriously. That served as a stark contrast to the attitude embodied by Apple, whose Very Serious Staff uses highfalutin, fancy-sounding names like "El Capitan" and "High Sierra" to describe their software and would never stoop so low as to giggle at themselves with a silly moniker like "Marshmallow" or (gasp!) "Froyo."

Inconsequential as it may have ultimately been, there was something strangely special about waiting for the big Android name reveal each version cycle. Enthusiasts and those of us who cover the field would devote way too much energy to guessing what dessert Google might go with for each year's letter, and even Android's top executives would playfully toy with fans and drop misdirecting hints about what a name might be.

Then came the big moment, often played up in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek-feeling manner — the moment when Google would dramatically pull the wrappings off an often-amusing new interpretation of the Android robot that'd join the ever-growing group of statues on its company lawn. And yes, Google does still plan to put up statues to represent each new major Android version moving forward, but, I mean, c'mon: Is the reveal of a robot holding an "11" next year really gonna be a moment anyone looks forward to? It feels more like a symbolic nod to the past than anything directly associated with the present.

Yes, it was all quite silly. Yes, it was all quite pointless. But still, it felt playful, it felt fun, and — perhaps most important — it made Android feel like a club to which people in the know belonged and where they could share in this silly, pointless tradition and all the hijinks around it.

It also had a hint of practical value: I don't know about you, but if I think back to, say, Android Gingerbread, I can immediately picture the green hues of the home screen in that era. If I think back to Ice Cream Sandwich, I see the start of the Holo design trend and the move to a futuristic blue motif. It's easy for me to recall KitKat's introduction of a more modern, light-colored design along with the launch of the Google Now Launcher and the first signs of "OK, Google" support. And who could forget Lollipop, with its card-driven interface and its countless accompanying quirks?

At the same time, tell me to think back to Android 4.1, and I have to pause to do a little mental math. Ask me about Android 8.0, and I have precisely zero synapses firing immediately. Numbers just don't establish the same sort of emotional connection as unique, memorable names, and five years from now, Android 10 is probably gonna be tough to separate from the Android 11, 12, and 13 that'll follow.

Maybe that's at least in part deliberate. Maybe Google realizes that Android releases, while undeniably still important, aren't the transformative, exciting arrivals they once were. Maybe Google realizes, too, that the majority of its Android device-makers are never going to treat timely upgrade deliveries as a priority — no matter what sorts of efforts it attempts to make the process easier and less labor-intensive for them.

There's also something to be said for Google's official explanation for the change — the idea that desserts aren't universal and that what "pie" represents in America isn't the same as what it represents elsewhere in the world. Apparently, you can't even readily find a marshmallow to buy in India (something that I'd contend is probably no huge loss). Android is very much a global brand these days, and using names to which many of its followers can't relate raises some difficult questions.

Even if Google were going to move away from desserts, though — something that seemed inevitable at some point along the way — I think I'd have an easier time digesting the change if it had been a pivot to a different sort of letter-driven system, one that'd either be more universal in nature or would allow the company to celebrate a different culture with each release. From fruits to savory foods and legumes — or perhaps even, ahem, fictional robot names — the possibilities are practically endless.

Instead, what we're left with is a cold, dry, dull-feeling number — one integer up each year with no personality, imagery, or emotional response attached. Look, it's fine. In the grand scheme of things, few decisions could be less significant. The software will most certainly be the same with or without a silly name alongside it.

But it's hard not to feel a slight sense of loss at the fun, the whimsy, the subtle winking nods that once represented a tiny glimmer of light in an increasingly dreary technological world.

So long, Queen of Puddings. We barely knew ye.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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