Here Comes Froyo!

Android continues its march towards the top of the smartphone market.

Progress!

We’re in the new economy where every two years we get a new phone, whether we need one or not.

And every few months we get a new Android release.

Android 2.1 is barely a few months old and it is already time for a new one.

Last week at Google I/O the Android team unveiled the much-anticipated Froyo rendition of Android — now officially known as the 2.2 release

Some Nexus One users have reported obtaining an OTA update to version 2.2, though most of us are still anxiously awaiting the update. Odds are that it will be available within the next couple of weeks, which is good as I am eager to take it for a test drive on a real device.

Speaking of devices — we earlier speculated that Google I/O attendees might enjoy some pricey treats compliments of their hosts. While the guesses of a Froyo-equipped NexusOne or an early Google TV appliance weren’t exactly accurate, the Sprint EVO 4G dished out to attendees isn’t too shabby.

The HTC manufactured device is running Android 2.1 at present but it certainly boasts some very impressive specs including:

  • a larger-than-usual screen
  • high resolution video out
  • dual cameras to support video conferencing
  • expanded internal storage
  • built-in hotspot tethering

Could this be the “converged device” of the future as we discussed last year?

Probably not just yet, but looking at a device that is capable of sharing an Internet connection to multiple peers and producing HD video out, it is easy to get (more) excited about the future of mobile devices and applications.

Let’s have a look at what Android 2.2 users and developers can expect.

Froyo features

Thanks to an upgraded Dalvik Virtual Machine which includes a Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler, Android applications run anywhere from 200 to 500 percent faster than the same applications on Android 2.1. This is huge, particularly for gaming applications that might struggle to maintain a desired frame-rate. This should also help battery life as the compiled code is more efficient than interpreting byte-codes.

Kernel Memory management is improved as is the JavaScript engine — making web applications run more quickly. We increasingly live in a JavaScript enabled world, so this is welcome news.

Flash is here! The Android Market has available for download an early (read Beta) version of Adobe’s Flash. Considering the progress being made on other fronts such as HTML 5 and WebM, this may be more of a “moral victory”, but for the millions of websites hosting flash content, this is an important milestone.

Wifi and USB tethering to permit Internet connection sharing. It is unclear exactly what kind of stance mobile operators (i.e. TMobile, AT&T, Sprint, etc) will take regarding charging extra for this feature or disabling it outright to protect their networks. The prospects of expanded Internet connectivity and portability is enticing to this dad who spends most Saturday mornings working in a spare room at a church while the kids are at orchestra practice. If I have to pay extra for this feature I’ll probably continue to do without it. Being off of the Internet for a little while is not exactly bad for you. And besides, if I really need to look something up the phone’s browser works just fine.

Cloud computing. Application developers can now send notification messages from server to device by way of Google’s intermediary platform. When the device receives the message a specific application will launch with the “pushed” data. The proto-typical example described is a “maps” user sending an address to a mobile user. I can relate to this — I’ve often called my office for some navigation assistance. Now I can have the data pushed directly to me — very cool!

Additionally, Google now offers a device backup feature to help users secure mobile data. If you really want Google to hold on to your data, go ahead — they have probably sniffed it via Wifi anyway. Just wait until the government officially outsources to Google…

Oh yes, how could I have forgotten! Android 2.2 has added calendar synch for Exchange and supposedly some “Remote Device Wipe” features. This ought to bring Android closer to the enterprise users, further accelerating its adoption. Too bad I already dropped $20 on Touchdown. That’s OK, I don’t mind supporting an enterprising vendor who offers a quality application.

What’s next?

Vendors will make Froyo available to existing devices on a rolling basis — as usual. The update for Nexus One is due out in the coming weeks, though as mentioned earlier, many users already have the new image. Carrier specific devices will follow over the coming months, with most devices likely updated by the end of the year.

While I am excited about the Exchange sync features, I am hopeful that the improved memory management will prevent or at least reduce the number of device lock-ups during phone calls — it is getting very old to have to pop the battery in my $500 phone just to make a phone call.

I don’t expect Apple to sit around crying into their beer based on these announcments. In fact, rumor has it that Apple employees are no longer permitted to enter bars with prototype devices anyway. Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in June is likely to have some ante-raising announcements that will keep the fur flying. Buckle Up, it’s going to be a good summer for mobile devices.

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