Google has taken the wraps off Android 2.2, also known as Froyo, which introduces a raft of enterprise-friendly features to the open-source mobile operating system.
Although the company classifies Froyo as an "upgrade" to Android, the version bump adds functionality such as improved Exchange support, automatic application updates, a major performance boost and the ability to use the smartphone as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
Froyo was unveiled on Thursday at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. At the launch, Google engineering vice president Vic Gundotra said the company had "heard loud and clear from the enterprise that they need very specific features".
"In Froyo, we've introduced over 20 new features designed to meet the needs of enterprise," Gundotra said, adding that more than 50,000 applications are now available for the Android platform.
Several improvements have been made to Android's Exchange support in Froyo. The auto-discovery feature allows accounts to be set up and synchronised with just a username and password. Exchange administrators can enforce password policies — now including alphanumeric passwords or numeric PINs — across devices, and can also remotely wipe lost or stolen handsets.
Exchange calendars are now supported in the Android calendar app, and enterprise users can also look up Global Address List recipients from within the email application. Applications can also now be installed to the microSD card for the first time, making it possible to use larger apps on Android smartphones.
Developers can now give their apps access to the phone's data backup and restore functionality, so users' data does not get lost with each factory reset or switch to a new device. New APIs also allow developers to write device administrator apps for controlling security features on devices.
Another major new feature is the the cloud-to-device messaging application programming interface (API). This API makes it possible to, for example, have someone using a desktop browser send a message to their Android device, triggering the start-up of the navigation application or opening up the browser on a specific web page.
Multiple languages can be added to the keyboard, so users can switch between Latin-based input languages with a swipe of the finger across the space bar. This changes not only the auto-suggest dictionary, but also the available keys.
Froyo makes it possible to turn phones such as the Nexus One into portable Wi-Fi hotspots, so people can use their handsets as wireless modems for up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Android phones can also be used as USB-connected modems for Windows and Linux notebooks — functionality that was previously available only via third-party apps.
Voice-dialling over Bluetooth has been added, along with the ability to use the phone's LED flash for video recording as well as still photography. The video frame rate has been bumped up from 10 to 20 frames per second.
The new browser also makes it possible to use all the functionality of the long-awaited Flash Player 10.1, which makes its debut alongside Froyo and requires the version as a minimum specification for the Android platform.
Developed through Adobe's Open Screen Project, Flash Player 10.1 is the first fully-featured version of the popular rich media player to work on mobile devices, which have had to make do until now with the stripped-down Flash Lite.
Android 2.2 will be rolled out over the air to users of Google's Nexus One in the next few days, with other recently-released Android phones likely to receive the upgrade later this year.