Google has just released the new Android 2.3 version, code name Gingerbread. As with every new release, this one was well expected and includes a bunch of additions, improvements and new features. Let’s explore what new features are offered both from an end user’s and a developer’s perspective.
As stated in the official Android Developer’s Blog post, among the new version’s highlights, the most important from a developer’s standpoint, are the following:
- Enhancements for game development: If you are a game developer, good news. With the introduction of a new, concurrent garbage collector, smoother animation and increased responsiveness can be achieved in one’s applications. Improved responsiveness is also provided by faster event distribution, i.e. the platform now handles touch and keyboard events faster and more efficiently. Finally, the use of updated third-party video drivers that improve the efficiency of OpenGL ES operations allow for faster overall 3D graphics performance.
- New forms of communication: First, the new release includes a full SIP protocol stack and integrated call management services that let applications easily set up outgoing and incoming voice calls. This is really interesting, but note that Google mentions that “Support for the platform’s SIP and internet calling features on specific devices is determined by their manufacturers and associated carriers”. I am a little skeptical about this, since the carriers are notorious for blocking the features that would limit their own business (remember Skype?). Since SIP calls are a direct competition to the carrier’s core business, i.e. charging for calls, I doubt how and if this will be supported. Additionally, there is support for Near Field Communications (NFC). With the relevant NFC API, applications will be able to respond to NFC tags “discovered” as the user “touches” an NFC-enabled device.
- UI refinements for simplicity and speed: The user interface is refined in many ways across the system, making it easier to learn, faster to use, and more power-efficient. A bunch of pages with screenshots from the new UI have appeared. Nexus S is the first device to be using the new platform version.
- Faster, more intuitive text input: The Android soft keyboard is redesigned and optimized for faster text input and editing. The keys themselves are reshaped and repositioned for improved targeting, making them easier to see and press accurately, even at high speeds.
- Improved power management: Really, really important since battery life is one of the most important issues when mobile devices are concerned. Applications that do not “play well” (those that are keeping the device awake for too long or are consuming CPU while running in the background) will be “managed” by the Android OS, meaning that they will be suspended or even be killed if necessary.
- New ways of communicating, organizing: With the incorporation of SIP and NFC support, an updated set of standard applications lets the user take new approaches to managing information and relationships.
- New media framework: Support for VP8, WebM, AAR and AMR-wideband as mentioned previously.
- Networking: SIP stack, NFC support and updated BlueZ stack (this is the official Bluetooth stack for Linux).
- Dalvik VM: Concurrent garbage collector, JIT (code-generation) optimizations, improved code verification, compression (Gzip) of the HTTP responses by default, improved network APIs and many other.