What You'll Get From Android 3.0

Gingerbread Android Google

Photo: Danny Sullivan, Creative Commons

The word on the street is that Google is about to unveil Gingerbread, the next version of mobile OS Android, perhaps as soon as next week.Probably, Google will release the Android 3.0 software development kit (SDK), so developers can begin getting their apps ready for Gingerbread.

The operating system itself won’t be out in the wild until late this year, and depending on your handset and carrier, you probably won’t be using it until early 2011.

But the SDK is enough to tell us everything about the new features coming in Gingerbread.

As per usual, Google won’t officially say anything about it. We don’t even know the version number for sure. People are expecting Android 3.0, but Gingerbread could end up with 2.3 or 2.5 as its official name.

But despite the official silence, there are plenty of solid indications of what to expect based on public statements from Googlers and sourced media reports reports. There are also lots of features we know we want from Android.

Expect results from Google's big push in mobile gaming

Android boss Andy Rubin all but guaranteed that Gingerbread will feature some improvements around gaming in a recent interview with PC Magazine. When asked about what features to expect in the latest version of Android, he started talking about games almost immediately:

I think gaming is an area that I think is underserved right now. We're actually going through a reinvention of casual gaming...

If we were to carefully look at what new features and functionalities in the platform that we would need to support all forms of gaming across the entire spectrum, I think that would probably be an interesting thing to pay attention to.

Google has been acquiring social networking and casual gaming companies like crazy recently, putting together a team with skills the company has sorely lacked thus far. Given how recently some of these acquisitions were announced, whatever Google shows us in Gingerbread will only be a downpayment on its vision in this area. But we doubt Andy would have said this if the company didn't have something new here.

The biggest change in Gingerbread will be a major UI overhaul

All signs point to a major overhaul of Android's user interface. Michael Arrington's sources tell him the Android team is 'laser focused' on UI, and that 'the bulk of their efforts' will be focused in this area.

Google recently poached Palm's head of UI, Matias Duarte. The company also acquired BumpTop, a company that made 3D desktops like the one shown here.

The controversial and extremely well-sourced Eldar Murtazin cryptically notes that looking at this photo gallery app should give you a good idea of what the new UI will look like.

Google could kill Android skins

Michael Arrington says the focus on UI is intended to make handset manufacturers' 'skins' obsolete.

Up until now, the major handset manufacturers have loaded their phones with custom interfaces -- 'skins' -- built on top of Android. The can do this because Android is distributed under an open licence. And in Android's earlier days they had good reason to do this, because the unadorned Android OS was unappealing and tough for the average user to navigate.

According to Arrington, Google thinks its new UI will be so nice there won't be a need for skins. This is implausible. If skins were there to help the user, they would be set up as an option. The fact of the matter is that hardware companies and carriers meddle with Android to make their phones distinctive, to funnel users into their own services, and, generally, to extract more revenue out of them.

Google isn't dumb. If the company really thinks skins are going away, that's because it plans to lean on its partners and make them go away. That seems like a long shot, but it would be a terrific development.

Copying and pasting is about to get a lot smoother

It took Apple forever to add copying and pasting text to the iPhone, but at least it worked when it got there.

That very basic feature is still a nightmare on Android. There are actually third-party apps built to take over this function, because the default is so shoddy.

Fortunately, Googlers have acknowledged the problem, and they say they've been working on an upgrade for the latest version of Android.

Music is coming to the Android Market

Back in May, Google announced that it was going to start offering music in the Android Market, its app store.

Vic Gundotra showed this off on stage at Google's I/O conference, but since then, the company has been completely silent about what amounts to a direct iTunes competitor. But there have been reports of Google being in serious licensing talks with record labels.

According to Billboard, Google is pressing to let users play every song in its catalogue in its entireity once for free, after which they would be limited to a standard preview clip until they paid up.

It's not a sure thing that music will arrive at the same time as Gingerbread, but it's a decent bet.

You'll be able to download apps from your computer. You'll also be able to stream your music to your phone.

Google's desktop offering for managing your phone is reportedly about to go from non-existent to cutting edge.

You will soon be able to sync your Android phone with the web-based version of the Android Marketplace. You'll then be able to browse the Market on your computer, and automatically start your phone downloading the apps and music you buy.

But you won't need to put all of your music on your phone, because of the technology Google acquired when it bought Simplify Media. This will let you set up a 'locker' of music in the cloud (reportedly for $25 per year). Any music you buy in the Android Market will be in your locker. Any music you already have on your computer (provided it isn't DRM protected) will also be in there. And you'll be able to stream anything in your locker to any computer or to your Android phone whenever you like.

This won't kill the need to store some music locally -- you don't always have an Internet connection, and streaming music to mobile devices is generally a brutal battery hog. But this could still be a major game changer.

Again, no guarantee that this comes out with Gingerbread, but it's a very reasonable hope.

Gingerbread should support higher screen resolution for tablets

Eldar Murtazin reports that Gingerbread will support 1280x760 screen resolution for devices with a screen size of at least four inches.

Translation: Google is getting ready for the slew of Android tablets about to hit the market.

In the same interview, Eldar said that the minimum recommended specs for Gingerbread call for a 1Ghz processor and 512 MB of RAM, suggesting that older Android devices might not be getting this upgrade ever.

It's a safe bet that there will be some sort of integration with Google TV

We haven't seen any actual reports of this, but just about everyone is assuming Google will do something to hype Google TV here.

At a minimum, we'd imagine you'll be able to control your Google TV remotely using your phone. But we can hold out hope for the ability to stream video from the service as well.

Hopefully Google will FINALLY improve audio recording quality

We have no idea if Gingerbread will address this, but every new version of Android that doesn't is an embarassment.

The problem: most audio you record with your phone sounds absolutely awful. This doesn't appear to be a problem with the phones themselves, but rather with the default codec Android uses to record audio, which is extremely primitive. Savvy developers can work around this, so there are third-party apps that are much better, but it's a weirdly obvious problem to have nonetheless. People on Android's support boards have barraged Google with requests to fix this, and we see no reason why it should be difficult, so hopefully we'll finally see a fix soon.

If Gingerbread doesn't introduce an easy way to take screenshots, we might cry

This is a pretty personal request. We realise only a tiny percentage of users regularly need to take screenshots on their phones.

Still, every other computer operating system we've ever used (Windows, Mac OS, various flavours of Linux, iOS) makes this incredibly easy.

With Android, it's a nightmare. Please, oh please let Gingerbread bring the solution.

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