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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Android era: From G1 to Ice Cream Sandwich (and beyond)

(Credit: CNET)
Whenever I think about Android 4.0, better known as Ice Cream Sandwich, I'm amazed at how far Google has come since the early days, when it was trying to convince the world that phones with the friendly green extraterrestrial could make applesauce of the revolutionary iPhone.
The skepticism was well-earned. Google's first Android phone, the HTC-made T-Mobile G1, wasn't much to look at when it debuted in October 2008, with its trough for a keyboard and its bizarrely jutting chin (we even thought we might be getting a single Google Phone!). Yet the G1 kicked off an Android avalanche just the same.
Fast-forward to 2011, when the now-mature Android operating system accounts for 48 percent of the global market share, according to research firm Canalys, with a staggering 85 percent slice of the pie in South Korea and 71 percent take in Taiwan. iPhone sales remain strong, but Windows Phone poses only a shadow of a threat.
There are consequences of such a blistering growth spurt, and in Google's case, it's been fragmentation: too many versions of the operating system available at the same time. Most models now host Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), which will be replaced by Ice Cream Sandwich, along with the tablet-specific Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).

Ice Cream Sandwich is set to change all that, conquering fragmentation with its one-size-fits-all solution for Android screens large and small. Always searching for the next treat in its enticing alphabet of releases, tipsters are sharing news of what's to come after Ice Cream Sandwich, even though manufacturers and carriers are still upgrading existing devices to Gingerbread. (More details below the chart.)
It's always good to get a little perspective, and in light of that, here's a look at milestones in Google's Android operating system, from its humble beginnings to its current ambitions in smartphone and tablet domination.

Android version SDK release* Notable updates
1.0 (G1) February 2008
  • GPS and Bluetooth (but not stereo Bluetooth)
  • Multitasking
  • Tight integration with Google services like Gmail, Google Maps (with Street View), and Google Calendar
  • Apps: Amazon MP3 Store; YouTube
  • Android Market (about 35 apps at launch)
  • No Microsoft Exchange Server; no camcorder
1.5 (Cupcake) April 2009
  • Universal search box (search had been limited to the Web)
  • Revamped Android Market: Browsing categories (Apps, Games, Downloads) and filters (Top Free, Top Paid, Just In)
  • Camera: Toggle between camera and video modes; integrated photo gallery and camera with bulk photo deleting
  • SDK expands support for gestures, voice-to-text
1.6 (Donut) September 2009
  • Virtual onscreen keyboard
  • Camcorder mode for recording (and watching) video
  • Stereo Bluetooth
  • Home screen widgets and folders
  • Copy/paste and search within the browser
  • Direct upload to YouTube and Picasa
2.0 (Eclair) October 2009
  • Multiple user accounts
  • Exchange support; universal e-mail inbox
  • Quick Contact pop-up widget to launch communications with friends in the address book
  • Search saved SMS and MMS messages
  • Camera improvements include support for flash and digital zoom
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Keyboard improvements: Adaptive dictionary that includes contact names in suggestions
2.1 (Eclair, second helping) January 2010
  • Live wallpaper; five home screens
  • Speech-to-text added to any text field; microphone icon for voice dictation in e-mails, texts, and so on
2.2 (Froyo) May 2010
  • Speedier OS
  • USB tethering and hot-spot support
  • Android Market update: Batch and automatic updates; installing apps to the SD card
  • Adobe Flash 10.1
  • File uploading in the browser
  • Improved Microsoft Exchange support: security policies, global address lookup, calendar sync, remote wipe
  • Bluetooth support for voice dialing and contact sharing
2.3 (Gingerbread) December 2010
  • Redesigned copy/paste
  • WebM video compression support
  • NFC (near field communication) support
  • Switch to front-facing camera from camera app
  • Virtual keyboard shortcuts
3.0 (Honeycomb) February 2011
  • 3D graphics support
  • Side-by-side browser tabs; private browsing
  • Dual-pane modes for address book, e-mail
  • Redesigned UI includes program thumbnails
  • Video chatting with Google Talk
  • Full-screen-mode photo gallery
  • Bluetooth tethering
* We list the date of the SDK release rather than the over-the-air (OTA) update timeline since OTA release dates vary by carrier and handset model.

Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)
Gone are the tiny incremental changes we saw from Froyo to Gingerbread. Ice Cream Sandwich heralds a dramatic, bold new Android. Despite its cutesy name, Ice Cream Sandwich is all about strong lines, sharp corners, and darker colors. Google is even switching up the type face to one called Roboto, which is intended to be clearer, crisper, and easier to read.
Here's a list of the main new features, but our hands-on impressions go much deeper.

  • Virtual buttons in the user experience free up display space.
  • Create folders by dragging apps on top of each other.
  • There's a new tab for thumbing through your widgets.
  • Calendar app now supports pinch-to-zoom.
  • Gmail gets offline search (nice), a two-line preview, and gesture support for swiping between conversations.
  • The revamped Gmail user interface has an action bar for composing a message, searching, and accessing labels.
  • Take screenshots by holding power and volume down buttons (finally!).
  • "Request desktop site" in the Chrome browser opens the full version of a Web site and syncs with your bookmarks.
  • Save Web pages offline and use up to 16 tabs in the browser.
  • More keyboard error correction and an inline spell check.
  • Access apps directly from the lock screen.
  • A recent applications icon.
  • "Roboto" is a new typeface.
  • Delete individual notifications by dragging them off the notifications menu
  • Improved voice integration and copy and paste.
  • Face Unlock is a facial recognition service that use your face to unlock the phone.
  • New Data Usage options in the Settings menu will notify users when they near a data use limit and disable the feature when the limit is reached.
  • You can kill off apps that are using data in the background.
  • Open the camera quickly from the home screen.
  • Camera has no shutter lag, continuous focus, zoom while recording, panorama photos, time-lapse settings, and 1080p recording.
  • Face detection in the camera.
  • Integrated photo editor, including focus and exposure and "hipster filters" (we don't want to know).
  • New gallery layout, organized by location and person.
  • People app brings together high-res photos, social media information, and status updates.
  • Phone app lets you swipe between favorite friends with integrated visual voice mail.
  • New photo gallery layout for organizing by location and person.
  • Speed up and slow down voice mails.
  • Quick message sends canned response text message when you decline a call.
  • Android Beam, an NFC feature for exchanging information between two phones by tapping them.
Jelly Bean
Just about the only thing we know about the release to follow Ice Cream Sandwich is that it might be called Jelly Bean, and even that remains unconfirmed. The best we get is the tantalizing promise from a third-party's source that Jelly Bean will contain some "game-changing stuff," in addition to features that weren't finished in time for Ice Cream Sandwich.
Watch out, Apple. It's getting to be a Google World.

Read more: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19736_7-20012566-251/the-android-era-from-g1-to-ice-cream-sandwich-and-beyond/#ixzz1cfPFW3H7