posted by Thom Holwerda on Thu 20th May 2010 18:29 UTC
IconAt the Google I/O conference, Google just held its second keynote address, which focussed on Android. The talk was held by Vic Gundotra, and he unveiled a number of new features coming in Android 2.2 "Froyo", as well as some features coming in Froyo+1. The main theme of the entire keynote? Openness and choice, and a whole bucketload of not-so-subtle jabs at Apple. I'd like to apologise upfront for a possible lack of critical notes in this article - I'm still handing out the brownie points to Google for yesterday.


State of the union

While the talk was obviously focussed entirely on the strengths of the Android platform, Gundotra took jab after jab at Apple, to much applause from the audience. The most important difference between Google's Android and Apple's iPhone OS? Openness, and choice. Gundotra explained that one of the main reasons Google started Android in the first place was to prevent a "draconion" future. "If we did not act, we faced a draconian future. Where one man, one company, one carrier was the future," he stated, to much applause.


Photo courtesy of Engadget

The openness and choice thing is apparently working out for Google, since Android use is way up. Late last year, Android had a daily activation rate of 30000. In February, that had doubled to 60000, and during the keynote, Gundotra announced they were now activating more than 100000 Android devices every day. They work with 21 OEMs, in 48 countries, on 59 carriers. The Android Marketplace is stuffed with 50000 applications from 180000 developers. Another fun little statistic: when Google launched turn-by-turn navigation on Android six months ago, they set an internal goal of 1 billion miles navigated within 12 months. They reached that goal within six months.


Froyo

Anyway, what's new in Android 2.2, nicknamed "Froyo"? Well, first of all, there's a Just-In-Time compiler now, which improves performance on Android devices two to five times, according to Google. There's also a lot of new enterprise stuff, such as new Exchange features that I'm not particularly familiar with.

One of the features that really stood out is an internet-to-device messaging service, which, according to Google, is "much more than a push notification service designed to make up for a lack of basic features like multitasking". This new service can perform some interesting tricks, such as send navigiation instructions looked up on your PC to your Android device - which will automatically open the navigation application and set up the route. Or, you can send a link to your phone, and the link will be automatically opened on the phone's browser. The possibilities are endless here.

There are more internet-based features in Froyo, such as the ability to stream your entire music collection from your desktop or laptop computer to your phone. You can play the music on your phone as if it is stored on the device, while it's actually being streamed. Pretty cool.

You can now finally install applications on the SD card. Android can manage automatically where applications go, or you can move them around manually if you so desire. Google has finally added the ability to update all applications at once, and took this concept a step further by allowing you to tell applications to update automatically. Crash reporting has been added as well, so when an application crashes, a full report can be sent straight to the developer.

Also coming in Froyo is tethering and mobile hotspot. Of course, this will be carrier-dependant, a fact conveniently ignored during the keynote. It works pretty much as you'd expect: you flip a switch, and your phone becomes a mobile hotspot. The demo showed an iPad hooking up to a Nexus One.

The browser has also received a major overhaul in Froyo. Google has ported the JavaScript engine powering the Chrome desktop browser to the Android browser, yielding significant speed improvements. According to the company, the browser in Froyo is the fastest mobile browser, a claim backed up by a funny demo application in which Froyo completely obliterated Eclair and the iPad. "I wonder if we'll get that in the App Store... Oh wait, it's a web app. Isn't that great?" Gundotra quipped.

Of course, Flash 10.1 was part of the presentation too. Talking about Flash, Gundotra really went to town on Apple on this one. The full web includes Flash, and it's not up to the phone maker to decide how people view the web. "As it turns out, people use Flash!" he said.

"It's really fun to work with other folks in the ecosystem to meet the needs of users. Much better than just saying 'no'," he added, "We're not only committed to having the world's fastest browser... But also the world's most comprehensive browser."

Flash 10.1 for Android requires Froyo, since a number of API changes were made between 2.1 and 2.2 required for Flash. The beta is out today, and the final version should land June 17, although that's not been confirmed. June 17 is the release date for the desktop version of Flash 10.1, but Android is expected to get Flash that day as well. Flash for WebOS, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Phone will arrive later this year.

There was also a lot of talk about advertisements (really?), but most of that was pretty boring. Suffice to say that Google has added several new ad formats for mobile, including a few remarkably similar to Apple's iAd.


Froyo+1

Google also demonstrated several features which will land in the next version of Android, scheduled to be released in the fourth quarter of this year. For instance, like the webOS, you will be able to browse the Marketplace on your PC, and install applications on your Android devices over-the-air. You will also be able to buy music in the Marketplace and have it sent to your phone - Gundotra made fun of the connect-phone-to-PC routine.

Google also showed the future of voice recognition - and this really blew everyone away. A Google employee told a Nexus One "Pictures of Barack Obama with French president at the G8 summit", and the phone gladly complied, launching the correct Google Image search. "Pictures of the Golden Gate bridge at sunset" also worked, and telling the navigation application to go to "Del Dotto Vineyards" didn't prove problematic either. Heck, even Google Translate works; "Can you help me find the nearest hospital?" was correctly translated into French, and spoken by the phone.


The future

Android is moving fast - very fast. In fact, it is developing at a pace that far exceeds its competitors. Android has been out there for 18 months, and has already seen seven new versions. Between now and the end of this year, we'll see two major new versions (Froyo today, Gingerbread in Q4). Apple can manage about one release a year, and already, Froyo adds a lot of tricks iPhone users (like myself) can only dream of; can you imagine what Gingerbread is going to do?

The situation isn't much better for Microsoft. By the time the first Windows Phone devices arrive, Gingerbread will be right around the corner. Palm needs to get used to being part of HP first, and that might take some time. RIM kind of does its own thing, and Symbian isn't developing at a rapid pace either.

A few weeks ago I said the iPhone's market share will settle somewhere around the 10%, and taking into account what Google showed off today, my conviction that this prediction will pan out has only been strengthened. Apple simply cannot keep up with the insane development pace the open model - whether it is on the software side, or the hardware side.

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