Google Previews Android 2.2 As Apple Antidote

May 20, 2010 (11:05 AM EDT)

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Last year, at the second Google IO developer conference, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra declared that the Web had won.

This year, at Google IO, there are still battles to be fought, mainly against Apple. Gundotra proclaimed the importance of providing "a free operating system that would enable innovation at every level of the stack."

"If Google did not act, we faced a draconian future," he said, a reference to Apple's tight control of its iPhone OS ecosystem.

It was a message that the audience of open-source developers -- hardly fans of rules or restrictions – applauded repeatedly.

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"If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone then you believe in Android," he said.

In his discussion of the next version of the Android operating system, Android 2.2 -- otherwise known as "Froyo," -- pointed references to Apple's controlled approach were accompanied by bursts of engineering superiority.

After demonstrating an impressive cloud-to-device messaging API by which a user can with a single click send a map loaded in a computer browser to an Android phone, Gundotra mocked the iPhone's more limited push notification service.

"That's how you do a cloud-to-device API," said Gundotra, as if scolding computer science students.

To be sure, Android 2.2 comes with many worthy features. There's a new Dalvik JIT compiler in Android 2.2 that delivers a 2x to 5x performance increase over Android 2.1, new enterprise capabilities like Exchange support and policy management APIs, and the V8 JavaScript engine has been added to the Android browser, improving JavaScript performance by a factor of 2x to 3x.

Gundotra demonstrated a SunSpider speed test app running in Froyo, eclair (Android 2.1), and on an iPad. Froyo left the other two in the dust.

Taking another swipe at Apple, he said, "I really wonder if we'll be able to get that into the App Store? Oh. It's a Web app. How great is that?"

The cloud-to-device messaging API offers two-way sync and push capabilities, the new backup API makes restoring devices and backing them up easier, and apps can now be installed in device memory or on the Android phone's SD card.

Developers will also have access to application error reports, including a full stack trace, through the Android Market.

Android 2.2 also allows certain devices like the Nexus One to act as a portable hotpost, providing WiFi access to up to eight other WiFi-capable devices. It supports tethering too.

The Apple beating continued as Gundotra announced that Android 2.2 will include Flash Player 10.1 public beta.

"It turns out that on the Internet people use Flash," he said with mock surprise. "And part of being open means you're inclusive rather than exclusive. And you're open to innovation."

He describes how his daughter tried to access Nickelodeon on his iPad and, because the device does not support Flash, saw only an orange screen.

How did she respond? "'Daddy, can I play with your Android device?'" Gundotra recounted.

Gundotra's daughter is not the only one with an interest in Android. Gundotra revealed that Android device activations had surpassed 100,000 per day.

He also said that Google AdSense for mobile is now open to the developers at the conference. He promised a $100 ad credit to allow developers to try promoting their Android apps.

Finally, Gundotra offered a glimpse of a future music streaming service that will allow Android users to stream their music files (if not protected by DRM) from their computers to their phones.

The Android 2.2 SDK and Android NDK, Revision 4 are available now from Google's Android developer site. Android 2.2 will be made available to Google's mobile partners in a few weeks.