An expanding Android universe
SAN FRANCISCO -- The future looks bright for Google's Android smartphone platform. Or at least it looks a lot brighter than it did two and a half years ago, when it debuted on a single smartphone with a tiny number of add-on applications.
In today's keynote at its Google I/O conference, Google touted some impressive numbers: 100,000 activations of new Android devices a day, more than 50,000 applications in the Android Market. The company also demonstrated the next version of Android, which looks to be a much bigger jump than its modestly higher version number -- from 2.1 to 2.2 -- might suggest.
This "Froyo" release (short for "frozen yogurt") offers a bundle of new updates outlined in Google's blog post. Here are the ones I'm interested in:
* Faster performance. Although the HTC Droid Incredible I just reviewed has yet to inflict any meaningful pauses or hiccups, I can't say that for older Android phones.
* Flash support. Yes, Adobe Flash can seem evil and stupid. But sometimes I just want to watch a video or use some interactive widget now; I can always complain to the Webmaster later on (when, presumably, I'll point out that he's cutting off iPhone and iPad users completely).
* Built-in backup. It's a little ridiculous that installing a new version of Android can require wiping out all of your existing data, without offering any simple backup-and-restore routine -- as if you're undertaking a destructive upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7.
(5/21, 11:16 a.m.: If you're looking for something not to like about Froyo, I'd point to the fact that you'll have to ask your phone's manufacturer and possibly your wireless carrier if and when it will offer an upgrade. HTC, for instance, says anything shipped this year will "most likely" get that update "in the second half of this year," but older devices may be left out. Come to think of it, I also wish better battery life had been among Froyo's advertised features. And in purely selfish terms, my job as a tech journalist would be easier if this release allowed me to take a screengrab without protracted tinkering with development software.)
Other evidence of Android's healthy state is on display in the hall one floor down from the keynote auditorium: a glass case filled with 54 different Android phones and tablet computers. In front of them, booths allow attendees to inspect a variety of current and upcoming Android phones from Sony, Samsung, LG, HTC and Motorola.
It seems safe to say that if there isn't an Android phone in the size and shape you want, there will soon be one -- even if it doesn't match all of your feature requirements or do everything as elegantly as the iPhone. So can you please stop asking me if there will be a Verizon iPhone?
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