Google Announces Plans For Next Android Version–Ice Cream Sandwich

Published on May 10, 2011
by Ina Fried

Google kicked off its I/O conference with a bang on Tuesday, announcing the imminent release of an update to Honeycomb for tablets and televisions as well as plans for the next major release of Android: Ice Cream Sandwich.

Down the road, it also looks to expand Android further into the home with plans for a home hub and unified accessories as well as a protocol for Android devices to talk with all manner of home appliances and utilities.

As expected, the next release will unify the tablet features of Honeycomb with the phone features and be designed to run on a variety of devices. Due at the end of this year, Ice Cream Sandwich is designed to run on everything from phones to tablets and to phones that can act as laptops when docked.

The Honeycomb update, version 3.1, is being rolled out immediately for owners of the Motorola Xoom running on Verizon’s network. The new version features improved widgets and support for acting as a USB host, meaning devices will be able to import photos as well as connect to keyboards, mice and game controllers. The new version will also support a recently released update to Adobe Flash 10.2.

It will also power the forthcoming update to Google TV that Mobilized wrote about last week. The update will be provided free to existing Google TV users, while new Google TV products are coming later this year from Sony, Samsung, Logitech and Vizio.

And Google also detailed the movie rental and music locker services that we reported about on Monday. The music service is launching in limited beta for those in the U.S.

In developer news, Google announced an alliance of major handset providers and carriers–including all the U.S. carriers–to work on standards for how often, how long and how quickly devices should get OS updates. The promise initially is that users will get platform updates for at least 18 months from when they buy their devices.

The company also announced plans for a new accessory standard that will allow for add-ons that can work with any device–addressing a key limitation of Android as compared to Apple’s relatively small iPhone lineup that shares a common connector.

Google released a development kit for the new specification and said it will be open with no fees and no non-disclosure agreements–another point of divergence from Apple, which takes a cut from sales of many types of products that plug into the iPod and iPhone dock connector.

It also announced plans for an Android @home specification for Android products to talk to all manner of devices in the home from washing machines to thermostats to lights.

Google’s Joe Britt pointed out that the new support could allow everything from an alarm clock that turns on the lights when it goes off to even a real-world Farmville in which the Android device is tied to a garden irrigation system. The company also showed “Project Tungsten,” an Android-based home hub. Britt demonstrated the just-announced music service running on the Tungsten box.

As for momentum, Google noted that it is now activating 400,000 Android devices a day, up from a rate of 300,000 a day as of December.

“We’re incredibly thrilled to share with you today we have activated 100 million Android devices worldwide,” Google’s Hugo Barra said during Tuesday’s keynote.

There are now 36 device makers, with more than 300 devices having been sold in 200 countries. Also, there are now 200,000 apps in the Android market and 4.5 billion Android apps have been installed with some 1 billion apps now being installed every 60 days.

The loudest applause, of course, came as Barra announced the giveaway–Samsung’s redesigned Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. The device is not due to ship for another month or so, Barra said, but attendees are getting theirs this week at the conference.

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