Google Polishes Up Android 1.5 Dev Kit

Application creators can get an early look at the software developer kit (SDK) for Android 1.5, the next version of the mobile operating system, according to Google.

Based on the “Cupcake” branch from the Android Open Source Project, the SDK has application programming interfaces (APIs) for new features, including soft keyboards. Android phones with the new operating system could challenge the iPhone.

Google has also changed the developer tools as well as the structure of the SDK so that it includes multiple versions of the Android platform. For example, the new SDK includes Android 1.1 and 1.5.

Google, however, has in some ways been relatively slow to crack the mobile phone market, and competition and politics could make things tough for Android.

Android 1.5 SDK Features

The preview release of the Android 1.5 SDK is based on the Cupcake development branch, a private branch of the Android Open Source Project. Most of the Cupcake source code is already available as open source now, Google spokesperson Carolyn Penner told LinuxInsider.

The Android 1.5 SDK is based on a new Linux kernel, version 2.6.27.

While Android 1.5 has not yet been finalized, meaning it could be changed, perhaps its most impressive feature currently is its on-screen soft keyboard, which works in both portrait and landscape orientations.

“The soft keyboard is the biggest feature that will make a difference to developers,” Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe told LinuxInsider. “That means you can have a pure touch device, unlike the Android G1, which has a fold-out keyboard.”

Taking On the iPhone?

Through its support for accelerometers, its stereo music capabilities, and its video capture features in the 1.5 SDK, Android could close in on Apple’s iPhone, according to Yankee Group’s Howe.

The 1.5 SDK includes accelerometer-based application rotation capabilities, which opened new doors for device design when the iPhone introduced them.

Through Bluetooth A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), the Android SDK 1.5 offers Bluetooth support for essentially high-quality music stereo headsets, going beyond what the iPhone offers. “They’re stealing a march on the iPhone by offering a music headset with high-quality stereo,” Howe said. “The iPhone’s Bluetooth support [is] very much oriented towards a phone headset.”

However, the iPhone will support A2DP in the next version of its operating system, expected to be released summer.

“The soft touch keyboard, accelerometer support and video capture will make Android phones more complete and worthy competitors to the iPhone,” Howe said.

Leveraging Google

Users can batch actions, such as archive, delete and label on Gmail messages. They can also upload videos to YouTube and photos on Picasa.

In addition, users can view their Google Talk friends’ status in the Contacts, SMS, MMS, Gmail and e-mail applications.

Changes to the SDK

Future releases of the Android SDK, including 1.5, will include multiple versions of the Android platform, Google said. The latest SDK, for instance, includes both Android 1.1 and 1.5.

This lets developers target different versions of the platform from one SDK so they won’t have to develop applications twice. Future Android SDK releases will also let developers install SDK add-ons to access extended functionality from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), carriers or other providers, Google said. SDK 1.5 has an add-on which provides support for the Google Maps API. That API was embedded in the core SDK in earlier versions.

Google warns that APIs for Android 1.5 have not been finalized and that some changes could be made before the final release, scheduled for the end of April. It asks developers not to release applications based on this early-look SDK.

Eating Others’ Dust?

When announcing Android in 2007, Google said that the first mobile phones would hit the market in late 2008. So far, only T-Mobile USA carries an Android phone, the G1, in the United States.

One reason is because carriers don’t want to be shut out of the earnings, IDC analyst Will Stofega told LinuxInsider “The operators are very worried about what happens in terms of revenue; they don’t want to just collect data charges and not get a good cut of the share of profits from mobile handsets,” he explained.

Another reason is the huge earnings potential for mobile platforms. “This battle over the mobile phone platform is one of the holy wars of computing,” Jim Ready, chief technical officer and cofounder of embedded Linux operating system vendor MontaVista, told LinuxInsider. “Sales are driven by applications — remember there’s been 1 billion downloads from the Apple App Store — so there’s a maniacal focus on the platform.”

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