Google I/O has once again come up trumps, the Big G’s annual San Francisco event delivering some sensational new Android features, as well as plans to push the OS beyond smartphones and tablets. There are even plans to bring the OS into line, as Google looks to stymy fragmentation. Here are our top new Android features to rear their head at I/O so far.
1 Android Ice Cream
More the basis for the future of Android than a feature in itself, Ice Cream Sandwich has been pegged for Q4 this year. As well as some stonking next-gen features (of which more later), it brings Gingerbread and Honeycomb together, with devs able to scale apps across phones and tablets. That also means UI changes for phones, and maybe even an end to dreaded custom skins.
2 Android Market Movies
US-only for now, but this multi-platform rental store is going to make a serious play for iTunes territory on iOS. Android 2.2 or above is supported, which means all top-end current Google phones can play nice. Throw in tablet support and offline PC syncing and you’re looking at a winner. Movies will look epic on big screen wonders like the HTC Desire HD.
A development framework for now, but Google has shown with @Home that Android can be more than just a mobile platform. Its light control function is inspired, its AirPlay-baiting Project Tungsten a pointer to Apple that Android is currently the platform of true converged innovation. CD scanning with NFC and stereo control and streaming will make this a winner when it eventually launches.
4 Update guidelines
These might seem prosaic, but Google’s deal with US networks and its key OEMs to ensure the latest Android phones are upgradeable for at least 18 months is a smart move. It won’t kill fragmentation, but does mean people buying new kit know that it will at least be at the bleeding edge for the bulk of their contract.
5 USB hub skills
Google showed Ice Cream Sandwich’s USB hub smarts off at I/O. And they promise to make all tablets and smartphones using Android much like the Motorola Atrix. Keyboards, mice and even Xbox controllers can be hooked up. This will be especially important on slates.
6 Facial recognition for video calling
This tech is seriously clever and gives Ice Cream an edge over the current version of FaceTime on iOS. If you’re nattering with two mates, the camera will track which person is talking and focus on them. Gtalk is about to get very interesting.
7 0-click NFC sharing
This is what NFC is all about. Google demoed devices using NFC sharing content without having to fire up apps. It works with YouTube clips and web pages and Google says it’ll be going large on it, pimping it out to devs for potential app sharing activities.
8 Google Music on Android
Google Music might be a desktop deal, but it’s also going to play a large part on Android devices. The fact you can stash 20,000 tracks in the cloud and stream them wherever you are, means the Big G has gazumped Amazon and Apple. It also leaves space for more apps on your device.
9 Google TV update
Google TV is getting a boost to Android 3.1. While not strictly mobile, devs working on apps for it will doubtless be looking to port their work over to Android Market on phones and tabs, meaning better add-ons for all of us.
10 Instant Mix for Music
This is Google’s iTunes Genius rival. El Goog says it’s every bit as smart as its competitor, with playlists you make on your Android phone or tablet automatically syncing with the cloud.