Google released the much-anticipated 1.6 version of Android to developers this week. Based on the Donut branch of the Android open source project, 1.6 is a minor update to the Android platform that could have a major impact to the bottom line of commercial Android developers. In this article I'll cover the user features of this tasty new treat. A future article will cover the developer-facing features.
Update: the second article is available now. Read: What's new in Android 1.6? Part 2: Developer features
Most of the changes in 1.6 are behind the scenes, but users will be able to notice a few updates:
- The biggest change is the introduction of a new and more powerful Android Market. This will make it much easier to discover and try great apps and games. Like the iPhone App store, the Market will break down categories of applications into Top paid, Top free, and newly released offerings. And at long last, you'll be able to see screenshots of programs before you download them.
- The "g" icon is gone from the search box on the home screen. While it might not seem like much, this is a hint that you can now do much more than Google web searches using this widget. In 1.6, search now works across multiple sources such as the titles of all your applications, names in your contacts folder, browser bookmarks, and so forth. Over time, the system learns which search results you find relevant and will bubble those up to the top as you type in the first few letters of a query.
- The gallery, camera, and camcorder user interface has gotten a major facelift. Taking pictures is also much faster, up to 39% faster to take the first picture and 28% faster to take the second and subsequent ones.
- Ever wonder why your battery doesn't last as long as it used to? Now you can find out by consulting a new battery usage screen. It will show which applications and services are consuming the most power, so you can decide to change the settings on those programs, stop them, or uninstall them as needed.
- You can now connect to your work network using one of several supported types of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
- New WiFi security options are supported including WPA-EAP and IEEE 802.1x.
New phones that use 1.6 (such as the HTC Tatoo) should hit store shelves later this year, and updates to existing phones are expected to be slowly phased in by carriers over the next few months.
The new Android 1.6 Market could be a game changer for users and developers alike. In 1.5, paid applications were hidden from users behind an obscure menu option. But in 1.6 they will be brought to the forefront. By exposing users to high-quality paid applications, the Market should see a surge in revenue which will encourage developers to produce even more and better content. For months the Android Market has lagged the iPhone app store, but 1.6 could put it on a path to change that.