I love ice cream. I admit it. Israel is a terribly hot place to live in, and there is no better comfort food in the blazing heat than ice cream. And my favorite, ever since I was a child? Ice cream sandwich. That great mix between black and white, chocolate and vanilla, perfectly packed inside a crunchy biscuit, top and bottom, is just too good to resist (despite the dietary implications).
Well, this is not a foodie blog, but with Android versions naming convention – who can blame me?
I wanted to write here about Android V4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, announced just a few days ago at the Google’s Developer Conference (Google I/O), but in a sense the name, and the wonderful version symbol, fit very well together.
Tsahi has previously discussed on his blog the various fragmentations Google has introduced to device manufacturers, application developers and customers with Android. Release fragmentation and form-factor fragmentation were included. Over at VisionMobile, Tsahi discussed the fact that Google is moving too fast and too slow at the same time with Android: too many releases, too slow to catch up with the market trends.
So what did Google do up until now to solve this? They moved a lot faster, releasing too many Android versions for one to count, targeting mainly mobile devices (2.1 – Éclair, 2.2 – Froyo, 2.3 -Gingerbread and… well, 2.4 – Gingerbread), but then released V3.0 – Honeycomb, which targeted the trending tablet market.
While customers don’t really care about the exact OS their devices are running (unless you’re a ROM upgrading smart ass… we’ll get to you in a minute.), this rain of OS versions mainly confused the device manufacturers and application developers. While with, for instance, Apple, there was only one OS to deal with, for both mobile devices and tablets, with Android things were pretty unclear: will the next big tablet run Gingerbread or Honeycomb? Will the next cool update to Android target mobile devices or tablets? And with fierce competition from Jobs and friends, Google realized fragmentation must be solved.
So what did device manufacturers do? They released a variety of devices with different Android versions, and frankly most of them felt a little half-baked. Which lead to a lot of “smart asses” offering better versions, through ROM upgrades and other means of hacking. Not the consumer experience you would really expect in the telecom market.
Ice Cream Sandwich: Mobile Meets Tablet
Well, the Google gods have listened to our struggle, and decided to spoil us with a delicious treat: Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 2.4 or 4.0 – it’s not clear, will be the first OS to run on all types of Android devices, converging Android into one package, and easing development for the Android OS. It is expected to be released by the end of 2011, so first devices will be probably available in the market in Q1 2012. Nevertheless, if you believe Google execs, the troublesome V2.X/V3.X fork will be finally closed in a matter of a few months.
Just like with ice cream sandwich, Google promise to merge the best of both worlds – mobile devices and tablets – under one version, allowing customers (and developers) to enjoy both Honeycomb and Gingerbread features. Google Product Manager Hugo Barra called it “the most ambitious release yet”. And here’s what we know about it so far:
- The Honeycomb look, optimized for tablet devices, will be available to all phone users, including the slick user interface, the updated app launcher, the interactive homescreen widgets and the multi-task bar.
- New developer API will allow developers to build apps for all Android devices using the same framework.
- 3D display system that can track movement and detect the position of a person’s face (think Kinect) will be available from Google. This can serve a lot of applications, including visual communications.
- Connected devices, like Google TV, will also be part of the Android framework, meaning that applications built for mobile devices will be able to run on connected devices just as well.
Android on stage on the Google I/O conference. Photo: Michael Cote.
With the great success Android is seeing, with both customers and device manufacturers, and with great features that even the iPhone doesn’t have, Android has certainly proven it is a market changer just as much as iOS, if not more. The real challenge for Google, and device manufacturers other than Apple, is to release devices that merge Android perfectly, just like Apple is doing with the iPhone and iPad.
If Google focuses on Ice Cream Sandwich, and the market will gladly align to it starting from next year, I believe that we will see better devices that will seriously give Apple a run for their money. If not, and this is the basis for yet another fragmentation in the Android version tree, then I fear Android will continue to be just a great promise.