The Gingerbread Man Cometh

A huge gingerbread man has been put up on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., suggesting that Gingerbread, the next release of Android, may be released soon.

Past dessert-themed displays have heralded the release of previous versions of Android such as Froyo.

There’s still a bit of confusion swirling around Gingerbread. It’s not yet clear whether the OS will be dubbed Android 2.3 or 3.0. Further, Gingerbread is reportedly more suited for tablets than smartphones.

Gingerbread Treats

Gingerbread has been scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter. It reportedly offers support for WebM video playback, improved copy-paste functionalities, and improved social networking features.

There are unconfirmed reports that Gingerbread will enable media streaming from users’ PCs; that it will have a revamped user interface (UI); that it will support bigger screens, with up to 1,366 by 768 Wide XGA resolution; that it will support 3D games; and that it will support WebP image files, Google TV and video calls.

WebP is an image format for compressed image files that was developed by Google. It’s a derivative of the VP8 video format and is a sister project to Google’s WebM multimedia container format.

“Given Google’s focus on HTML5 in Chrome, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a major focus on WebM in its mobile OSes,” Dmitriy Molchanov, an analyst at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

Google is focusing on three major categories in Gingerbread, Molchanov said. One is look and feel; the second is video chat; and the third is hardware acceleration.

“Look and feel relates both to the user interface and some of the major applications on the OS like YouTube,” Molchanov elaborated. “Google is working to make the application fit in with the look and feel of the entire OS.”

Support for video chat “is a major step forward for the Android OS, and coincides with rumors that the Droid T2 will come with a front-facing camera,” Molchanov said. Hardware acceleration is an area Google has been focusing on, he added.

The Droid T2 is a next-generation Motorola Droid smartphone.

More Reported Specs for Gingerbread

Minimum requirements for Gingerbread will include a 1 GHz CPU, 512 MB of RAM and a screen measuring at least 3.5 inches, Molchanov said.

“The 1 GHz CPU requirement is steep and will effectively bar all but the highest-end smartphones on the market today from using the software,” Molchanov added. “It’s likely that the Droid T2, Galaxy S2 and the HTC Sabor — all next-generation smartphones — will ship with Gingerbread, whose success will depend on them,” he added.

Google may also offer SIP support, Molchanov said. This will let Android device owners running Gingerbread make Google Voice calls over WiFi. “It’s a large step forward for mobile VoIP,” Molchanov remarked.

SIP, the Session Initiation Protocol, is used in voice and video calls over Internet Protocol. It can also be used for video conferencing, file transfer and online games, among other things.

Google played coy when asked for comment. “Gingerbread is the next version of Android and is due out by the end of the year,” Google spokesperson Randall Sarafa told LinuxInsider. “Other than that, we can’t comment on specifics.”

Will the Real Gingerbread Please Stand Up?

Google has been cagey about disclosing Gingerbread’s features, and it has done little to dispel the cloud of confusion around the new OS. In fact, it’s still not clear whether Gingerbread will be Android 2.3 or 3.0, although Molchanov is among those opting for 2.3.

“From what I understand, 2.3 is Gingerbread, and 3.0 will be code-named ‘Honeycomb,'” Molchanov said. “I’m surprised Google didn’t go with 3.0 for Gingerbread because it’s a major release.”

Further, it’s possible that Gingerbread may really be targeted at tablets rather than smartphones.

“From what I understand, the UI modifications are meant to make the Android experience better on a tablet-sized screen,” Molchanov said. “Many hardware manufacturers like LG have delayed tablet plans, likely in anticipation of this release.”

Mobile OS Wars

Despite all the improvements, Android still lags behind Apple’s iOS, according to Molchanov.

“There’s still nothing fundamentally groundbreaking in this release,” he said.

“With the new UI, video chat and hardware acceleration, Google is still playing catch-up with iOS,” he added.

“I respect the fact that Google can innovate so quickly compared to everybody else, but that has a lot to do with its catching up in the smartphone market,” Maribel Lopez, founder of and principal analyst at Lopez Research, told LinuxInsider. “But there are still some gaping holes and we have yet to see something from Google that will match what Apple offers.”

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