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What should we expect from Android’s Gingerbread and Honeycomb updates?

by Marty Gabel

Cupcake. Donut. Eclair. Froyo. What’s up next? Why, it’s Gingerbread and Honeycomb of course. These future Google Android updates may posses sweet nicknames, but they also pack a lot of power and continue to improve the still quite youthful Android operating system, hopefully adding both function and performance.

When can we expect these updates? A lot depends on the mobile carriers and the device manufacturers themselves. With a huge number of devices (both smartphones and tablets) on different networks, some old, some new, there’s no uniform rollout like Apple iPhone users see. You take your chances with the device you buy, and the staggered rollout of these updates continues to be a large bone of contention with many Android owners.

Still, there’s plenty of information on what we can expect from the forthcoming updates. We’re just not sure when they’re going to drop. Let’s take a look at some of the new functionality, features, and improvements we hope to see when Gingerbread and Honeycomb finally get unleashed.

Gingerbread

When Gingerbread was first announced, it was expected to be Android version 3.0, a distinct update from the most recent Froyo 2.2. Since then, however, it’s emerged that Gingerbread is going to be version 2.3 of Android, so consider it more of an incremental update to the OS, rather than a massive sea change.

If you want the more technical nitty-gritty, this handy YouTube video from the Android development team may help. But what should us regular Android consumers expect? Here’s a few highlights:

  • Performance: Better multi-tasking capabilities, and better response to touch and input should occur with Gingerbread as well as 3D graphics improvements for gaming.
  • User Interface: The changes are subtle but include darker UI elements, new radio buttons, a black taskbar, and an overall sense of smoothness and uniformity to the OS.
  • Multi-touch keyboard: Some third-party makers have already introduced this, but expect all Android devices to be able to take advantage of this feature with Android 2.3.
  • Near Field Communication: If your phone is equipped with an NFC chip (enabling it to be used rather like an electronic passkey or wallet), Gingerbread will ensure the software ‘tagging’ side of things will work too.

Those who upgrade to Gingerbread should also expect better multimedia capabilities with support for new video codecs, improved battery life, native VOIP Internet calling built-in to the operating system, and some improvements to the global copy-and-paste function within every Android app.

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Honeycomb

Ah, the sweet nectar of Android 3.0. Less is publicly known about the Honeycomb updates, but what we do already know is certain to excite Android enthusiasts, especially tablet users. Of course, many people will have to go through the long drawn-out process of waiting for Android 2.3 Gingerbread before they can even start to think about what delights await in future versions, but in the coming months, expect specific tablet devices to be released running Honeycomb straight off the bat. Just a few days ago, Google released a preview of the Android 3.0 SDK for developers, but also gave us all some highlights of what to expect. Once again, there’s another YouTube video to view. Already the Internet is buzzing about these prospective future improvements:

  • New UI for tablets: This is probably Honeycomb’s most important addition. Rather than just piggybacking on the same UI used in its smartphones, Google has optimized Android for use on tablets like the upcoming Motorola XOOM. With a new status bar, customizable home screens, cool widgets and better visual multi-tasking, expect a fresh, clean UI to streamline and improve the Android tab experience.
  • Keyboard redesign: Once again, with tablets in mind, expect a better multi-touch keyboard for larger screens, and improvements to cut-and-paste capabilities.
  • Updated standard apps: The Android browser, camera/gallery, contacts, and email apps will all get a nice refresh and functionality improvements.
  • Connectivity: Users will be able to instantly sync media files with a USB-connected camera or desktop computer, without needing to mount a USB mass-storage device.

No doubt more improvements and features will be showcased in the future, after all, this was just the first, official public preview of Honeycomb, and it only occurred this month.

The Future

Ice cream? Ice cream sandwich? Because Honeycomb is an Android update focused solely on tablets, the rumors are that the next iteration of Android for smartphones will be 2.4 and codenamed “Ice Cream” or “Ice Cream Sandwich.” It’s possibly going to arrive sometime in the summer (naturally: it’s ice cream after all), but there’s very little information yet on what features and enhancements to expect.

However, if Google can get its act together and start rolling these updates out regularly to the already somewhat fractured Android ecosystem, 2011 and beyond could continue to see the operating system being tweaked and improved with more and more handy features. This should keep smartphone users (and dessert/candy lovers) ripe with expectation.

Jelly bean? Kit-Kat? Liquorice, anyone?