The Android Cyclopedia

Android is made of apps, games, functions, and features, so it would only make sense that it has its own lexicon. Words, phrases, and acronyms that didn’t exist few years ago are now used in an off-the-cuff style by developers and support technicians across the web.

As the platform matures, this list of unique Android words continues to evolve, which makes it hard to stay on top of the latest terminology. But breaking things down into simple terms is what we do best here, so below, we’ll cover all of the Android terms.

Activity

A screen or menu within an app that can be called on specifically. Use an app like Tasker or Activity Launcher to open an activity directly.

ADB

Short for Android Debug Bridge. Software that bridges the gap between your Android device and a computer, allowing you to send high-level commands to your phone or tablet over a USB data cable.

AMOLED

Short for active-matrix organic light-emitting diode. A type of display panel pioneered by Samsung where individual pixels emit their own light, removing the need for the backlight required in traditional LCD panels. AMOLED screens are distinguishable by their deep blacks and saturated colors.

Android

The world’s most popular operating system for any platform, even eclipsing Windows in market share. An open-source platform that is currently developed by Google, but was originally derived from Linux as a touch-oriented fork of the popular desktop operating system.

AOSP

Short for Android Open Source Project. The base of Android as a whole, which is used by manufacturers and independent developers to create the firmware an Android device runs on. Used colloquially to refer to an unmodified version of Android in some cases.

APK

Short for Android application package. The extension used in Android app installation files (e.g., app.apk). Similar in nature to an EXE file on Windows.

App

Short for application. A software program, generally developed for a mobile platform, that can be used to perform any number of tasks.

ART

Short for Android Runtime. Android’s new virtual machine library that replaces the older Dalvik. ART enables the same applications to run on vastly different hardware by acting as a go-between.

Bluetooth

A type of wireless connectivity for battery-powered devices that allows for data transfer at speeds of up to 24 Mbps over a theoretical range of up to 100 meters. Used commonly to connect accessories like headphones and speakers to an Android device.

Bootloader

The software that launches Android and its ancillary services when you power on your device. Also provides an interface for sending fastboot commands over a USB computer connection.

Bootloop

An error that occurs when software has become corrupt and your device immediately restarts when attempting to boot into Android, then repeats this process infinitely. Similar to a soft brick.

Bricked

A device whose software has been compromised (generally by the user) to the point where it will not boot into Android, rendering it as useless as a paperweight or brick. The term hard bricked is used to refer to a device in such a state as a result of failed hardware, while the term soft bricked generally denotes a software failure that can potentially be fixed.

Build.prop

A text file located in Android’s system folder which contains many lines of code that determine several settings for the device. Editing these lines of code can remove restrictions, give users access to new features, change display density, or even boost performance—but root access is required in order to modify the file.

BusyBox

A set of specialized commands or tools that can be installed on a rooted device to give certain apps more functionality. Generally, a BusyBox installer app is used to add the commands to a rooted device.

ClockworkMod

Abbreviated CWM, ClockworkMod was one of the first custom recoveries to be made available for a wide array of Android devices. Like all custom recoveries, ClockworkMod can be used to perform NANDroid backups, apply third-party modifications to Android, or install a custom ROM.

Also see: How to install ClockworkMod Recovery

Cupcake

The code name for the first public version of Android (1.5). Released on April 27, 2009.

Custom Recovery

Third-party software that replaces the stock Android recovery menu, adding the ability to install modification packages (flashable ZIPs), create NANDroid backups (see below), and install custom ROMs.

Also see: Custom Recovery for Android Devices

Custom ROM

A version of Android made by independent developers to replace the existing operating system on a phone or tablet. Normally installed through custom recovery, and generally includes several optimizations, as well as extra features.

CyanogenMod

Also Cyanogen, CM, CM 12.1, etc. One of the first Android custom ROMs (see above) to include support for a wide range of devices. Based on AOSP, CyanogenMod includes several additional features and tweaking options.

Dalvik

The virtual machine library used from Android Cupcake to Android KitKat. Dalvik was deprecated in favor of ART in 2014.

Donut

The code name for Android version 1.6. Initially released on September 15, 2009.

Eclair

The code name for Android versions 2.0 through 2.1. Initially released on October 26, 2009.

Factory Reset

To return a device’s software to its initial state by deleting user settings and files. A factory reset can be performed in custom recovery (see above) or through Android’s Settings menu.

Fastboot

A protocol used for sending commands from a computer to an Android device over a USB data connection while the device is in bootloader mode (see above). Fastboot is generally used to manually install firmware or to install a custom recovery (see above).

Firmware

The base-level software installed on a device, up to and including the operating system. “Factory firmware” is used to describe the software that comes pre-installed on Android devices before any apps or modifications are added.

Flash

To install a custom ROM or flashable ZIP through custom recovery, or to install a factory operating system image using either Fastboot or Odin.

Force-Close

A term used to refer to an app suddenly closing, either as a result of a bug, or the user intentionally stopping the app through Android’s “App Info” menu. Often abbreviated as FC.

Froyo

The code name for Android versions 2.2 through 2.2.3. Initially released on May 20, 2010.

Gingerbread

The code name for Android versions 2.3 through 2.3.7. Initially released on December 6, 2010.

Google Now

A service that debuted with Android Jelly Bean that uses information gleaned from various sources throughout Android to predict the information users will want to see at a given time. Sometimes used to refer to Google’s Voice Search feature.

Google Play Store

Android’s primary app store, where users can download and install software such as apps and games. The Google Play Store is also home to additional content, including movies, books, music, and TV shows. Generally referred to as simply “Play Store” or “Google Play.”

GPS

Short for Global Positioning System. A technology used in smartphones and navigational aides that uses a network of satellites to pinpoint a device’s location.

Hard Reboot

Also referred to as a hard reset. The act of pressing and holding the power button (or power and volume down on Samsung devices) to force a device to reboot when its software is misbehaving.

Holo

Android’s first unified interface design language, containing dark gradient backgrounds, light blue accent coloring, and tabbed app interfaces.

Honeycomb

The code name for a tablet-specific release of Android (versions 3.0 through 3.2.6). Initially released on February 22, 2011.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Often abbreviated as ICS. The code name for Android versions 4.0 through 4.0.4. Initially released on October 18, 2011, Ice Cream Sandwich combined the previous phone-optimized versions of Android with the tablet-only Honeycomb release using a new UI design called Holo (see above).

IMEI

Short for International Mobile Station Equipment Identity. A unique number assigned to all smartphones that is used by carriers to identify valid devices. If a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI gets flagged, which prevents the device from connecting to most cellular networks.

IPS

Short for in-plane switching. A technology used in LCD display panels that drastically increases the viewing angles.

Jelly Bean

The code name for Android versions 4.1 through 4.3.1. Initially released on July 9, 2012.

Kernel

Base-level software in Android and other Linux-based systems that translates requests from apps into code that hardware such as the CPU can understand. A custom kernel can be installed by users to add functionality and bring additional hardware controls such as double-tap to wake.

KitKat

The code name for Android versions 4.4 through 4.4.4. Initially released on October 31, 2013.

Launcher

The home screen on Android devices, used to open and manage apps. The default launcher on any device can be replaced by simply installing a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store.

Live Wallpaper

A type of wallpaper for Android devices that displays non-static images on your home screen. Generally installed as an app from the Google Play Store, many live wallpapers are capable of responding to touch, detecting motion, looping video, or shuffling between multiple images.

Lollipop

The code name for Android versions 5.0 through 5.1.1. Initially released on November 12, 2014, Lollipop marked the abandonment of Android’s previous Holo design language, and the introduction of its new Material Design interface.

Marshmallow

The code name for the latest version of Android (6.0). Initially released on October 5, 2015.

Material Design

Android’s current interface design philosophy, replacing the previous Holo design. Implemented in an attempt to unify app design with system menus.

NANDroid Backup

Also referred to simply as Nandroid or nandroid. A snapshot of your device’s entire software suite as it currently stands. NANDroid backups are created in custom recovery and can be restored in the event of any critical error to bring the device’s software back to the exact state it was in when the backup was created.

Notification Panel

Also commonly called notification tray or notification shade. This option is accessible by sliding one finger down from the status bar, and shows all new notifications, such as messages and missed calls, which can be swiped away or cleared, as well as persistent notifications. Indicators will appear in the status bar whenever new notifications are available.

Now on Tap

A new feature of Android Marshmallow that scans your entire screen in any app to find keywords and give you relevant Google Search information about the topics it finds. Triggered by long-pressing the device’s home button.

NFC

Short for near field communication. A very low-power wireless communication standard that is used to power Android Pay and Android Beam.

Odin

A software program for Windows computers that can be used to install firmware on Samsung devices over a USB data connection.

OEM

Short for Original equipment manufacturer. Used to refer to software, firmware, hardware, or accessories that were created by a device’s manufacturer.

OTA

Short for over the air. Term generally used in reference to a firmware update that is sent to your device wirelessly from your carrier or device manufacturer. If a device is rooted, OTA updates will generally fail to apply.

PPI

Short for pixels per inch. A measurement used to determine the density of pixels in a display. Devices with a higher PPI number will generally have a more crisp, detailed screen.

Quick Settings

A pull-down menu accessible from the lock screen, home screen, within apps, and pretty much everywhere else, that contains easy-access settings toggles (or buttons, as Samsung calls them) for a number of commonly used settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation, etc. On newer devices, it can be found by swiping two fingers down from the status bar.

Root

Technically speaking, root is the topmost folder in a Linux-based device’s file directory, where all operating system files are stored. As it pertains to Android, though, root refers to a user having access to the files in this directory, meaning they can modify these files with root-enabled apps to make changes to the operating system.

By default, Android devices do not provide root access, but workarounds are available that can grant root access to the user. Using such a workaround to gain access to the root directory is referred to as “rooting.”

Also see: How to Root Almost Any Android Device

Sense

A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP. Used by HTC in all of its devices.

Services

Part of an Android app that does not provide a user interface, but can perform actions in the background even if the user switches to another app. Services are used by apps to silently update information such as notifications, or to maintain a data connection for the app.

Soft Reboot

Also referred to as a soft reset. A function available on some custom ROMs and via root apps that shortens the time it takes to reboot a device by simply restarting Android as opposed to fully rebooting through the bootloader.

Status Bar

The bar at the top of almost every Android device that displays the time, Wi-Fi connectivity, cellular signal, as well a wealth of indicators for apps, settings, and services whenever they are in use. The status bar is not always visible depending on what app you’re using.

Tethering

The process of using a smartphone’s mobile data connection to provide internet access to other devices. Tethering is generally frowned upon by carriers since it can be used with computers, laptops, and other non-mobile devices.

TouchWiz

A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP. Used by Samsung in all of its devices.

TWRP

Short for Team Win Recovery Project. A touch-based custom recovery that offers the ability to install modifications and custom ROMs, as well as creating and restoring NANDroid backups.

Vanilla Android

A term used to refer to the non-modified version of Android that is found on Nexus devices, or on AOSP-based custom ROMs.

Also see: Tips/Tricks for Nexus 5x

Wakelock

A service used by apps to prevent your device from entering its low-power sleep state, which would otherwise clear the app from memory.

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