Android 2.2 with Great Features: More HTML5, Fastest Mobile Browser

Android 2.2, codenamed Froyo, will be up to five times faster at running apps and three times faster at browsing.

That’s according to Vice President for Google engineering Vic Gundotra told at the Google IO conference.

Froyo will also let you use the camera and voice recognition in the browser and it has new services that developers can use to make more powerful apps.

And you’ll be able to find and install apps more easily from the Android marketplace.

The performance improvements in Android 2.2 for apps and in the browser both come from just-in-time compilers; apps speed up because the Dalvik virtual machine they run on speeds up Java with a just-in-time Java compiler.

Speed improvements

SPEEDY: How much faster Android 2.2 is on various common benchmarks

Web pages run faster because the Android browser has the same V8 JavaScript engine as Chrome. “We think we can claim Froyo has the fastest mobile browser,” said Gundotra; he also demonstrated games running faster on Froyo than on the current Éclair version of Android, with frame rates between 11 and 25 per cent better.

More support for HTML 5 and Flash

The Froyo browser has more HTML 5 features; Gundotra emphasised the ones that let the browser access hardware features like the accelerometer for rotating the screen, the camera for taking photos in web apps like Buzz, and the microphone.

With Google’s voice recognition and translation services, web apps will let you search the web, tell your phone what to do or get a (rather basic) translation of what you need to say into another language.

He called looking up the details of a restaurant and phoning them by saying ‘call fifth floor restaurant’ an intention and said Android would give you “more intentions” in the future – like changing the channel on Google TV by talking to your phone. The new version also finally supports Bluetooth voice dialling.

You’ll also be able to use Flash in the browser. “We also have the world’s most comprehensive browser,” said Gundotra. “It turns out on the web, people use Flash and part of being open means you’re inclusive not exclusive. It’s great to work together to serve users; it’s much nicer than just saying no.”

This comment wasn’t only aimed at Apple, he later told TechRadar; “We continue to partner with Apple in many, many areas. What we said was not necessarily directed at Apple only but a very strong theme of the web is openness, inclusion and choice and that’s where we stand.”

Data in the cloud

Some of the features in Froyo will have to be built into new apps, like the ability to back up not just the device but also the data inside applications and the cloud messaging service.

“This is much more than a push notification service designed to make up for a lack of basic features like multitasking,” said Gundotra and used it to demonstrate sending directions from Google Maps on the desktop directly to the phone.

This is also the way the next version of the Android Marketplace will let you send apps (and possibly music) directly to your phone over the air; Andy Rubin, the engineering VP who started Android, told TechRadar this was a “sneak peek” and didn’t mean Android Marketplace would necessarily compete with the ITunes Store.

Gundotra also demonstrated streaming (non DRM) music from a desktop PC to the phone (as long as the PC is switched on); again he later told us this is a “future capability”.

Ads will also be able to link directly to apps in the Android Marketplace and download them to the phone. You’ll finally be able to install apps onto the SD card (developers can set apps to automatically install to SD or you can leave the OS to device which apps should go there) and you can choose to update all or selected apps automatically, or on demand.

Google has also added features to appeal to businesses; Android 2.2 will be easier to plug into Exchange, it will sync calendars as well as email and companies will be able to set security policies and wipe a phone remotely.

You’ll be able to tether some Android 2.2 phones and use it as a modem or as a portable hotspot; Gundotra demonstrated using this to get a Wi-Fi iPad online but he told TechRadar later that this will need operators to enable it in data plans. “The carrier has to be supportive – this is not something you can do without their support.”

Hotspot

HOTSPOT: You can use Android 2.2 to get an iPad on 3G – if your operator and data plan allow

Developers get the tools to build apps for Froyo for today; Android 2.2 is coming “soon” and some devices will get updates “within the coming weeks”.

But Andy Rubin told us that although Google can offer over-the-air updates, “Porting the OS back to legacy hardware is really, really difficult – historically it’s never been done. You have 200, 300, 400MHz processors trying to run apps that are meant for gigahertz processors, so you do what you can.”

Despite the success of iPad, Google isn’t pushing Android specifically for tablets but Rubin told us “What we showed on stage today was a small three-point-something-inch screen and a 55-inch TV; obviously there’s a lot of screen sizes in between and I can imagine a lot of companies coming out with devices in between.

“I’ve seen Android in ebook readers; I’ve seen it in microwave ovens… I’m delighted every time I see Android in a device I didn’t expect it in.”

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