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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.

android_phones_display.jpg

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?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 20, 2010; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mobile  
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Comments

forget about the Verizon iPhone, when exactly will AT&T start selling a useful android phone?

Posted by: dougb95 | May 20, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

When does Android 2.2 come out? And if I were to take the plunge for an HTC Incredible, will I be able to get the update?

Posted by: nashpaul | May 20, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

My problem with all Android phones is that there apparently is no easy way to sync my Outlook data with any of them. I run Outlook in a standalone environment, and it is my most important app. I am not willing to push my data into some "cloud" somewhere, either for storage or as a conduit to the phone.

From what I've read today--since I am researching phones--I'm not the only one in that boat, though those of us who think that way seem to be older rather than younger.

Either things change pretty quickly or I'll be looking at either a Palm device or an Windows Mobil device, neither of which have the issue with Outlook.

(I still have to check more into the Iphone, but I've heard mixed stories on it too--that is sometimes it works and sometimes not. Unless it works, it's unacceptable to me.)

Posted by: henwin | May 20, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

My question would be whether or not I will be able to update the operating system on my Droid Incredible? The article does not make this clear.

And to nashpaul who wondered whether he wanted a Droid Incredible or not, well, get one when you can (which is not now... They are sold out everywhere until at least May 29, although I have heard from Verizon retailers that they may not actually ship until JUNE 9). It is the most amazing device of any kind that I have ever seen in my entire life. It blows the iPhone away, and as to the Motorola Droid (which is roughly the iPhone's equivalent), well, Verizon is GIVING them away now.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | May 21, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

My question would be whether or not I will be able to update the operating system on my Droid Incredible? The article does not make this clear, although I have discovered that the Droid Incredible is among the HTC models being SPECIFICALLY targeted by Google for this upgrade ("second half of 2010") as well as the subsequent upgrade to 2.3 "Gingerbread," in the "fourth quarter, 2010." The only question is whether or not the upgrade will be "pushed," with the consensus leaning toward the notion that it will be.

2.2 is allegedly MUCH faster than v. 2.1 (which is already the fastest thing around) because of a more efficient compiler. No details of 2.3 have been released.

As to henwin's comment about v. 2.1's weakness in syncing Outlook data, this is one of the chief improvements included in v. 2.2, with the only shortfall being a lack of encryption.

And to nashpaul who wondered whether he wanted a Droid Incredible or not, well, in my opinion, get one when you can (which is not now... They are sold out everywhere until at least May 29, although I have heard from Verizon retailers that they may not actually ship again until JUNE 9). It is the most amazing device of any kind that I have ever seen in my entire life. It blows the iPhone away, and as to the Motorola Droid (which is roughly the iPhone's equivalent -- the Incredible goes beyond), well, Verizon is GIVING them away now.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | May 21, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

2.2 is supposedly coming out within a month to the Nexus One.

The Droid and Incredible WILL get the update once HTC gets around to it. I imagine this update will be pushed to the phones 2-4 months after N1 gets it.

On my Nexus One I am able to sync with my university's outlook box just fine. I imagine you can do the same to most with some tinkering. If you are looking for a productivity phone, though, I might wait for Windows Mobile 7. It is suppose to have a mobile version of the Office Suite and it will sync beautifully with Outlook.
My primary email box has always been my gmail, so an android phone makes sense for me.

I am most excited about flash support (finally), but was disappointed that Hulu will be blocking mobile devices for now. I understand that it is a joint venture of some of the biggest (and this usually means slowest) media outlets, but blocking mobiles just doesn't make sense. Do they think that watching the last 5 episodes of their shows on my 4 inch screen will become my preferred viewing preference? Is it really that different to watch Hulu on your laptop than your phone? That reminds me of another feature of the 2.2 update - tethering.

The second feature that I am excited about is the music and app syncing from your desktop. I don't know if this was a feature they announced that they are working on, or if it is coming to 2.2, but it is very exciting. I can just imagine downloading a CD from Amazon on my computer and then walking out the door and playing that same CD on my phone 10 minutes later at the gym. I also hope that I will be able to flip on my Google TV device and start playing that CD.

That is what I see as the expanding Android Universe, Rob. :)

Posted by: RichardWood1 | May 21, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

@nashpaul @FergusonFoont: I've added a link to a story summarizing a detail I should have included--when Android 2.2 will ship for particular phones. The answer is, it depends on your phone, phone manufacturer and carrier.

@henwin: You're talking about direct computer-to-phone sync, right? If so, you don't need to wait for Android 2.2, but may only be able to get an HTC Android phone. That company bundles an HTC Sync utility to put your Outlook calendars and contacts on the device. FYI, the Palm Pre and Pixi don't include native Outlook sync either. And I wouldn't buy a Windows Mobile device under any conditions--Microsoft is leaving that OS behind in its transition to Windows Phone 7.

For other details about Froyo, have a look at Engadget's extensive, extensively-illustrated guide to Android 2.2

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | May 21, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

henwin for Outlook compatibility on Android check out DejaOffice. http://www.dejaoffice.com. I bet it will FLY with Froyo. Works for Incredible too.

Posted by: Frblt | May 21, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I love my Palm Pixi, but I now wish I had waited for an Adroid 4G. The Palm OS is awesome, but if I have to predict which operating systems will be supported, Palm is probably #4. Despite being the best OS, the user base is not there, so companies will support iPhone, Android and Windows (whatever the name) first. If they ever get to Palm.

Posted by: patrickgama7 | May 21, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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