Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Summary: The long awaited Gingerbread release is out with lots of cool features for users and developers, but for tablet computers, this isn't the droid you're looking for.

TOPICS: Android, Google

The long awaited Gingerbread release is out, along with a plethora of user and developer oriented features that will delight and amaze. For me, I'm just excited to have another excuse to use the word "plethora" in a sentence. I mean, really, how often does that happen?

Before getting to the good stuff, I have a couple of disclaimers regarding Gingerbread that you should be aware of:

  1. You can't have it. Not on a real phone, until December 16th when you can shell out $529 for a new Nexus S phone ($199 with 2 year servitude, er, I mean contract).  There is no word on when or if Gingerbread will be available on other phones. Even the Nexus One, which up until now has always gotten updates before any other phone, won't be getting Gingerbread for "a few weeks". Most users don't even have 2.2 yet.
  2. It's not Android 3.0. Gingerbread is a minor release, which will be replaced next year with the big 3.0 Honeycomb release. Andy Rubin, the father of Android, demonstrated an Android tablet from Motorola yesterday, and it was running Honeycomb, not Gingerbread. I'm sure we'll see new tablets with Gingerbread just like we saw them with FroYo, but if you're looking for the mythical Tablet-optimized version of Android, this is not the droid you're looking for.

There are dozens of changes in 2.3 but I'm just going to pick 10 that stick out as being especially useful or game changing. As usual, I'll break this up into 5 user features and 5 developer features. First up: goodies for users.

User features

  1. New on-screen keyboard. The standard keyboard has been greatly improved in Android 2.3, with faster input and more intuitive typing. Even cut-and-paste got a makeover.
  2. Streamlined user interface. New color schemes and various UI changes and polish make Android more consistent and simpler to use.
  3. Application and power management. Android 2.3 provides better insight into what is running in the background, how much memory and CPU time it is using, and even lets you kill misbehaving apps. Yes, after months of telling us we don't need a task killer, they give us a task killer. Enjoy your chuckle, iPhone fans.
  4. SIP Internet calling. Voice over IP is integrated directly into Android 2.3. Unfortunately you'll have to get a SIP account from a third party, and the ability might be curtailed on some carriers.
  5. Download management. All your downloads from your browser, email, and other apps, can now be viewed and controlled from one place.

Developer features

  1. Native development. The ability to write Android programs or parts of programs isn't new but in Android 2.3 it gets a huge boost with Release 5 of the Native Development Kit (NDK). For example you can now receive input and sensor events, produce sound, manipulate 3D graphics contexts, access assets and storage, and more all from native code. They even added a NativeActivity class that lets you write your lifecycle callbacks in native code.
  2. JVM speed. For Java developers, 2.3 adds a number of speedups, most notably a concurrent garbage collector. According to Google garbage collection pauses will be under 3ms, which is small enough not to be noticed in a 30fps or even 60fps game. New JIT optimizations make Dalvik code run even faster than before.
  3. Faster event distribution. In previous versions of Android, just holding your finger down on the screen would cause whatever program was running to slow down, sometimes dramatically. This is all fixed in Android 2.3.
  4. Multimedia. Rich audio effects like reverb and headphone virtualization can be applied to local tracks or globally across multiple tracks. The platform adds built-in support for VP8/WebM video, plus AAC and AMR wideband encoding. Also, there are now official APIs for accessing the front and rear cameras. There is some limited support for extra large (tablet and TV) displays.
  5. Near Field Communications (NFC). In Japan, NFC is a Big Deal, and the hope is that it will catch on in the rest of the world too. It has all kinds of uses, for example with the right hardware and software you could use your phone as a replacement for your credit card to make point of sale purchases. Using the NFC API apps can respond to NFC tags embedded in stockers, posters, and even other devices.

For a full list of changes see the Android 2.3 Platform Highlights and the API Differences Report. According to statistics on the API Differences page, Android 2.3 is 2.93% different compared to Android 2.2, with 764 additions, 263 changes, and 40 removals. Android 2.3 will be available later this month on the Nexus S phone from Samsung, and from other vendors next year.

Keep watching the Platform Versions Dashboard to see what kind of market share this new Android version achieves over time. I advise all developers to test their apps on the 2.3 emulator now to make sure they run, but keep in mind it will be a while before there are enough 2.3 devices in the field for it to make a viable target.

Shameless plug alert: Counting 2.3, there are now 5 different versions of Android in active use, starting with version 1.5. Making your apps compatible with all these versions is a major focus of my book, Hello, Android. Free examples with source code are included.

Topics: Android, Google

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

    DOS for phones.
  • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

    Can't wait!
  • Thank you, Ed .....

    I have been trying to get the message out that Gingerbread would NOT be the tablet version of Android, and you are the first blogger on ZDNet to confirm that. The video demo you referenced does indeed show a Motorola tablet with 3.0 (Honeycomb) installed and looking great.

    One of the most interesting things in Honeycomb is the use of a control bar at the bottom of the screen with Home, Back, Menu, etc. on it instead of physical buttons. The advantage of this is that the controls rotate with the tablet so that they are always on the bottom of the screen, not sideways or upside down like a physical button.

    "[i]Yes, after months of telling us we don?t need a task killer, they give us a task killer.[/i]"

    First of all, they said no AUTOMATIC task killers for Froyo. There is a application manager that allows you to kill tasks in Froyo, they just improved it in Gingerbread. The problem with the [i]automatic[/i] task killers on Froyo is that they constantly battled with the OS causing faster battery drain. God knows that is not a good thing, considering battery life pretty much sucks on most Android phones to begin with.

    As far as Android vs. Apple tablets - When the Honeycomb tablets start rolling out the battle is [b]ON[/b]. Let's hope Apple is working on iPad2, if they don't include cameras, USB and upgradeable memory/SD (among other things) they will be the ones playing catchup, not Android.

    Let the good times roll !
    • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

      @babyboomer57 <br><br>haha... Apple playing catch up. LMAO....<br><br>Let's hope Apple is working on iPad2... HAHAHA.....<br><br>OMG... funny ****.<br><br>You should be working on their research and development team, they could really use someone with your insight.

      I am just going to throw this out there.... You don't have an ipad or any other tablet device do you? be honest... do you?
    • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

      I agree on one of the three things... Cameras.

      The other two things you mentioned are jokes.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • Hope it is better then the last release

    I hope it is better then the last version. I bought a driod 6 months ago and loved it after two new version of Android it has been going down hill with each release. Speed is slow and clunky, apps hang for various periods of time, voice recognition is terrible now, Google map is now a pain to the point that I really don't use it unless I have no choice, I use to use it all the time. I have been really disappointed by this OS. Next time I'm going iPhone, it works.
    • Droid speed

      I've had that problem once or twice but a factory reset cleared it up. It only takes about 10 minutes to get everything back so you might want to give that a shot.
      Ed Burnette
  • Each Release seems to be worse.

    Good Point about Droid going slowly down hill. Not a surprise when the maker of drioid also has a phone that competes with the rest. should have waited for iPhone to become available with Verizon. When the contract is up I'm moving to the iPhone as well unless Droid fixes the problems with app hangs and increases the speed.
    • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

      Froyo on my HTC Desire gave me HD video and app2sd functionality etc, but not without issues. Combining a factory reset with the upgrade lead to a notable performance improvement over eclair, but now Touchdown has recurring problems - corrupt database etc... it's easy to recover from, but a hassle. Anyone else here using Touchdown for Exchange e-mail seen that problem?

      Anyway; as a rule of thumb, consider a factory reset compulsory after an android upgrade if you want to experience performance improvements.
      • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)


        I am using Touchdown on a Telstra bake of Froyo on a HTC Desire with no such issues. When the Telstra update went through, EVERYTHING on my phone was lost, and the phone acted as though it come out of a brand new box. Wonder if the Telstra update forces a factory reset?
  • RE: Top 10 features in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

    Gingerbread has come with awesome features. Now everything is possible...this upgraded OS is great..
  • Android 2.3 dual 3G

    Android 2.3 dual 3G seems the best smartphone yet,HDC Z710 the best one? i got its spec here .yet i suppose it is
  • Changing version

    i'am using samsung galaxy ace mobile running with android 2.2 version.. if i i convert in to 2.3 gingerbread version, can i access my previous applications in the new version ?