Froyo Gives Android a Big Dollop of Speed and Flash

Google on Thursday took the wraps off “Froyo,” the next version of Android that’s been bolstered with new speed, tethering capabilities and Flash support.

Announced at Google I/O, version 2.2 of Android — the seventh platform release since it was launched in 2008 — includes a raft of new features for both users and developers. It will arrive soon, with some devices getting the update “in the coming weeks,” Xavier Ducrohet, Android SDK Tech Lead, wrote on the Android Developers blog.

Developers can now download the Android 2.2 SDK and Android NDK, Revision 4, from the Android developer site.

The following video demonstrates the new release in action:

‘Google Was Listening’

“I am thoroughly impressed with what Google announced,” Andrew Kameka, managing editor of the Androinica blog, told LinuxInsider. “It seems like Google was listening to everything that users have been asking for and worked to implement many of them.”

The use of the Dalvik JIT compiler, for example, brings a performance boost of between two and five times over Android 2.1 for CPU-heavy code.

“Mobile devices are designed to be used on the go, so time is almost always a factor,” Kameka pointed out. “Having a phone that moves twice as fast as it previously did will do wonders for Android and mobile phones in general.

“When you couple Google’s new JIT compiler with the advanced processing power of phones like a Nexus One or HTC Evo, it has the potential to be truly amazing,” he added.

A Browser Battle Brewing

Performance of the browser, meanwhile, has been enhanced using the V8 engine, which enables faster loading of JavaScript-heavy pages.

“I think in the mobile arena there is going to be a fight over browsers, just like there has been on desktop PCs and laptops,” Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat, told LinuxInsider.

“Google and others realize that users will have a choice of browsers on smartphones, so they have to get users wanting to use their browser; once they do, that browser has an advantage because it’s the window to the world, so to speak, for the Internet,” he observed.

Just as Microsoft has had an advantage in that way on PCs, so “Google is taking advantage of that on Android devices, and speed — especially for generally slower mobile connections — is a great differentiator to use,” Nogee said.

A Portable WiFi Hotspot

Then there are Android 2.2’s new tethering capabilities, which mean that devices including the Nexus One can be turned into a portable WiFi hotspot that can be shared with as many as eight devices. An Android-powered phone can also be used as a 3G connection for a Windows or Linux laptop by connecting the phone to the computer with a USB cable, allowing the connection to be shared between the two devices.

“In the greatest irony at I/O, WiFi went down under the weight of 5,000 people simultaneously trying to access it,” Kameka noted. “It was crucial for several people, including me, to be able to use their phone’s connection to get on the Web.

“I’m only able to do this through hacking the phone or using third-party solutions, but official support built into Android saves me the hassle and money, provided carriers permit tethering,” he added.

‘Something I’ve Wanted for Months’

Android 2.2’s new auto-update feature, meanwhile, “is something I’ve wanted for months,” Kameka said.

“Android previously required users to update their apps one at a time,” he explained. “Developers often update their apps, so it was common to have to manually update eight to 10 apps at once.”

The new update feature will provide “a one-click option for getting new versions of the apps people love,” he said.

‘A Leg Up on Apple and RIM’

Also included in Froyo are a Home screen tips widget and more dedicated shortcuts, better Exchange support, Bluetooth support, a 2.6.32 kernel upgrade, new features in the camera and gallery, and support for Adobe Flash.

“Regardless of who wins the HTML5 vs. Flash debate in the future, Flash is one of the most important web technologies now,” Kameka pointed out. “Flash may not be a necessity for mobile devices, but it makes a tremendous difference in the amount of content users are able to access. Android will be increasingly attractive to people who want more media consumption options.”

Android 2.2 also includes a raft of new APIs as well as new features for the Android Market.

“Android is the second-best selling phone OS in the U.S., trailing only RIM’s BlackBerry,” Kameka noted. “After today’s announcement, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it achieve the number one spot.

“Thanks to more attractive devices, increased speed and becoming more business-friendly,” he concluded, “Android adoption will likely have a leg up on both Apple and RIM.”

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