Top 10 Features of Froyo, Android 2.2

Google's Android czar Andy Rubin took the news of the July 15 Droid X release on Verizon as an opportunity to elaborate on the success to date of the Linux-based mobile platform, which also recently received an upgrade to version 2.2, dubbed Froyo.

"Every day 160,000 Android-powered devices are activated -- that’s nearly two devices every second, used for the first time by people from New York to New Zealand. Android started with one simple idea: Provide a powerful, open mobile platform to drive faster innovation for the benefit of consumers. This idea has come to life around the world. Today, there are 60 compatible Android devices, delivered via a global partnership network of 21 OEMs and 59 carriers in 49 countries. The volume and variety of Android devices continues to exceed even our most optimistic expectations. In some instances, Android devices are selling faster than they can be manufactured," wrote Rubin at the Google blog.

While Android-powered handsets are certainly maturing rapidly and gaining traction in the marketplace, they will need to be embraced by the enterprise to sustain steady growth, and it appears Android 2.2 and the Droid X are poised to help make that happen. Once the 2.2 update is rolled out, "corporate users can enjoy push delivery of e-mail; live widgets that stream messages to the home screen; filter widgets to differentiate work and home e-mail; corporate directory and Global look-up along with a unified calendar for Enterprise and sync with Google Calendar," according to a Droid X statement.

Sales of Android devices in the first quarter of 2010 spiked 707 percent year-over-year in North America, from 575,000 units sold to about 5.2 million units sold, according to the research firm Gartner. But as of mid-May, the iPhone is still ahead of Android by some 3 million units globally, Gartner noted in its mobile phone sales report, which obviously won't take into account sales of the new iPhone 4.

Despite its growth to date, Android still has a long way to go to catch Apple, which began selling the iPhone 4 last week, and Research In Motion's BlackBerrys, which continue to dominate the enterprise, though iPhones are aggressively encroaching into the corporate smartphone market.

BlackBerrys are still the most popular corporate device, with 70 percent of IT departments currently supporting them, but about 29 percent of businesses now support the iPhone, up from 17 percent last year and none in 2007 when the iPhone first launched, according to Forrester Research stats cited in a Wall Street Journal article chronicling smartphone rivals RIM and Apple.

These types of stats don't appear to bother Rubin, who went on to say in his blog that to "celebrate" the success of Android, Google is "open-sourcing" 2.2 to manufacturer partners, while developers have been tinkering with Froyo for some weeks. So while Android love is in the air, we are outlining the top 10 coolest features of the frosty treat, Froyo.

1. Speed

Arguably, the best reason to upgrade to Froyo is speed. The browser is a lot faster -- which enables much quicker loading of JavaScript-heavy pages. You'll see a two to five times boost in speed because the Dalvik virtual machine has a just-in-time compiler. Google's own benchmarks show that with the new Dalvik virtual machine improvements, the LinPack benchmark came in five times faster than Android 2.1. But that's not all -- the kernel got a memory management boost, too. According to Google, improved memory reclaim is up to 20 times faster. That means smoother switching between applications and performance when running on memory-constrained devices.

2. Tethering

Tethering might be the coolest Android 2.2 feature, but it's up to the mobile carriers to support it. Now you can use your Android mobile device as a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot. That means you can plug your laptop into your smartphone via USB and use the phone's Internet access. And, Android can support up to eight devices via Wi-Fi, but here's the catch, it's up to your carrier network to allow it. At the time of this writing, it looks like T-Mobile and Verizon do allow this, but not AT&T. Also, not all smartphones are built to support this feature.

3. Flash

You can watch movies. Unlike Apple's iPhone, which doesn't support Flash because Steve Jobs has some sort of irrational hatred for Adobe, Android 2.2 does support Flash.

Flash is an optional download from the Android Market. If you leave Flash enabled all the time, most of what you'll see will be Flash ads, but fortunately you can make Android browser plugins available on-demand.

Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan said, "It works more like ClicktoFlash -- you click when you want a piece of Flash to render. The version of Flash available now is 'pre-beta' so it doesn't have common desktop features like hardware acceleration for h.264 video."

4. Improved UI

While it's still not perfect, Buchanan said the user interface in Froyo is much improved over Android 2.1. Rather than the often-loathed white text on a black background, the Google Talk application is now dark on light and has a more unified feel with GMail.

The camera application got a much-needed scrubbing too.

"All of the settings like white balance and flash mode right up front, rather than sticking them behind a finicky slider that didn't work half the time," Buchanan said.

The photo gallery now has a feature that allows you to peek into a picture stack with a zoom gesture. This is something Apple has been doing for a while.

5. Microsoft Exchange Support

Microsoft Exchange support got some love, too, in 2.2. The calendar now works. Logging in got a lot easier now that Android supports auto-discovery of Exchange servers. Security is better because administrators can remotely reset a phone to factory defaults if it's lost or stolen. Also the global address lists are enabled so names can be auto-completed if found.

6. LED Flash for Video

Now you can shoot videos of your cat in the dark, or at least in low light, because Froyo has enabled the LED flash. Of course, your phone needs to have the hardware to support this, but it's pretty cool.

7. Cloud-to-Device Messaging for Mobile App Developers

A new service for developers is the ability to build applications using Android's Cloud to Device Messaging to enable mobile alerts, send to phone and two-way push sync functionality.

8. Crash Reports

Now when an application crashes or freezes, users can submit a report about the event. Those reports are available to the application developer when she logs into her Android Market account.

9. More Memory Available

No longer are Android developers limited to the mobile device's available memory. Now you have the option of installing applications on external storage, such as an SD card. That doesn't mean developers should start writing bloat-ware, but it sure gives them a bit more breathing room.

10. Data Backup and Restore

No more whining about lost data when a phone is left in a hotel room. Now developers can build their applications to use Android's new backup API. So if a phone is lost or stolen, the user's settings and data can be restored.

TAGS:

open source, Linux, Google, Android, Android 2.2

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