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Post Release notes on Android 2.2: Froyo (Part III)

Posted in Industry updates, Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on June 1, 2010

Continuing on the series of posts on Android and its latest OS version 2.2: Froyo. Read the earlier posts here: Part 1 and Part 2. Froyo will feature tethering and WiFi Connection sharing, improvements to the browser and Android market place. Most Importantly Froyo comes with Adobe Flash 10.1. In Android Flash may have a strategic ally to counter the iPhone shunning them.

Froyo also sees the introduction of native support for tethering and connection sharing over Wi-Fi. Android thus is the first platform to introduce native support for portable Wi-Fi hot spots, but operator commitment to the feature will be limited, at least initially. Connection sharing puts extra strain on cellular networks, and many operators will choose to offer the service on condition that users opt for a higher-value data tariff. This scenario supports the thought that US and European markets will shift away from “unlimited” data tariffs toward a tiered structure dictated by usage and potentially even by quality of service in the longer term. The advent of tethering and connection sharing over Wi-Fi may also prompt the advent of tariffs structured according to particular functions or applications.

Of all the new features in Froyo, improvements to the browser arguably have the highest profile. Google claims the browser is the third most-widely used application on Android devices after phone and text messaging functions, meaning it is an ongoing area of focus for the platform. The primary enhancement in Froyo is to the speed at which it interprets JavaScript, through the integration of the same V8 engine as the Chrome PC browser. Google demonstrated Android 2.2, Android 2.1, and the Apple iPad running the SunSpider JavaScript test, in which Android 2.2 substantially outperformed its competitors. Google claims that Android now boasts the mobile industry’s fastest browser.

In Line with Google’s intent of providing a comprehensive browsing experience, Froyo is the first platform to offer native support for Flash Player 10.1 as well as Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) both of which were demonstrated extensively at Mobile World Congress in February 2010.However, it should be noted that although Android 2.2 supports Flash Player 10.1, hardware requirements dictate that not all Android devices will be compatible.

The final pillar of focus in Froyo is Android Marketplace. Google claims that application usage has far exceeded its expectations, with the average user downloading more than 40 applications. Google has opened up the search function in Froyo to allow developers to “plug into” it, so applications can be easily identified on the device. To this end, the search function now spans the Web, applications and contacts, offering a drop-down menu for users. Applications can also be updated automatically over the air.

However, the next version of Android will see bigger developments to Marketplace. Demonstrations showed over-the-air application downloads to the device controlled from a PC browser, and music also featuring in the Marketplace. This will be supported by Simplify Media, a company recently acquired by Google, which will enable users to stream music and photos between PC and device. This echoes Apple’s purchase of Lala in December 2009, a company similarly focussed on music streaming.

For a point release, Froyo includes an abundance of new features and Google has to be applauded for the speed at which it is innovating and improving the Android platform. However, new features in Froyo and hints of future plans confirm that the rate of innovation and the requirement for new code releases is accelerating rather than slowing down. While the seventh platform release in 18 months is a remarkable achievement and indicative of the value Google is adding, it may also be unsustainable for a large proportion of manufacturers.

The need to keep pace with a vertically integrated player in Apple is a challenge Google relishes but its partners find highly demanding.Most Android manufacturers are struggling to deliver customised user interface layers on top of Android 2.1. With competition increasing and device prices falling, the number of manufacturers will be able to maintain a high level of differentiation on Android will shrink dramatically over the next two years. Many phone-makers will be driven to offer devices with “vanilla” Android or with lightweight customisation that is largely cosmetic. As performance and feature distinctions grow larger between each Android release, manufacturers struggling to keep pace risk becoming uncompetitive.

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