Designers get sneak peek of Android upgrade -

Designers get sneak peek of Android upgrade


SAN JOSE, Calif. — Developers got their first look at an upgrade to the Android environment Tuesday (April 14). The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) made available for download what it called an early version of a software developer's kit for Android 1.5 sporting a host of generally small but significant new features.

The new version is clearly focused on the smart phone that is the center of gravity for Android. To date, the only widely available product using Android is the T-Mobile G1 smart phone, but a host of handset makers including LG and Samsung have announced plans for Android-based smart phones.

Android 1.5 appears to ease the work of customizing the operating system's user interface, said Bill Weinberg, a Linux consultant. That will help carriers and OEMs looking to differentiate their handsets. It will also crack open the door for engineers working on a wide variety of Android products from ARM/Linux netbooks to a growing array of embedded systems such as set-top boxes and automotive entertainment systems.

“There's a new wave of experimentation treating Android as a broad embedded platform for all kind of devices,” said Weinberg. “The requirements for some of these other user cases aren't clear yet, but most of the investment now is still in smart phones,” he added.

The upgrade includes a host of user interface refinements including an on-screen keyboard and support for third-party external keyboards. Like the Apple iPhone, Android also lets applications shift between landscape and portrait modes based on input from an accelerometer.

OHA claims version 1.5 will offer faster performance in several areas including scrolling in the browser, acquiring location data from a GPS, and camera startup and image capture.

In terms of digital media, the new code supports the A2DP and AVCRP profiles for stereo Bluetooth audio. It also supports video recording and playback in MPEG-4 and 3GP formats.

The new version bundles in a variety of home page widgets such as a clock, calendar, music player and picture frame. It also includes new application programmers interfaces (APIs) for creating secure home screen widgets.

Among other new APIs, Android 1.5 now has interfaces for recording and playing back raw audio, speech recognition, a redesigned sensor API and a new API for creating applications using OpenGL graphics.

The code also extends its support for some of the features in Google's applications and services such as GoogleTalk and Gmail. It also supports upload videos to YouTube and photos to Picasa.

The new code is based on the version 2.6.27 of the Linux kernel and includes new auto-checking and repair features for SD card memory. It also uses a new version of the Webkit browser and Squirrelfish Javascript engine.

“I was frankly impressed with the quality and breadth of the first release and this continues in that tradition,” said Weinberg.

The OHA cautioned that “the tools and documentation are not complete, [and] the APIs are subject to change. You should not compile any applications for distribution using this version of the SDK,” it said.

It did not say when it will release a production version of the code. OHA released a similarly early version of the SDK for Android 1.0 in mid-November 2007. It released the final code nearly a year later on September 23, 2008 when the G1 phone shipped.

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