What's new in Android 2.0? Part 1: User features

What's new in Android 2.0? Part 1: User features

Summary: Google has taken the wraps off the next major version of Android: Android 2.0. In this article I'll cover what the new release has to offer for users. The list includes features like multi-touch, support for multiple email accounts, and a souped-up camera app.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
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Google has taken the wraps off the next major version of Android: Android 2.0 (also known as "Eclair"). This is the first of a series of 3 articles covering what the new release has to offer. In part 1, I'll cover user features and availability. Part 2 covers developer features, and part 3 will try to answer any other questions you might have about the new platform.

[ See also: Motorola DROID on Verizon: Is this the iPhone killer you're looking for? ]

New user features This video from Google shows off a few of the new features:

Eclair features include:

  • The most important new feature in Android 2.0 is support for multi-touch devices. Up to 3 fingers can be tracked on the screen at a time. Among other things, this allows for faster typing on the virtual keyboard and multi-touch gestures for zooming and scrolling.
  • Android 2.0 has a single, secure interface for managing multiple online accounts. You can enter your credentials once (for example your email address and password) so that applications don't have to prompt you for those individually.
  • The email and contact apps support multiple accounts, including Microsoft Exchange Server. (Note: Exchange support is optional and some carriers might not offer it, but the Motorola Droid will have it).
  • Support for soft keys. Some new Android devices will not have hardware buttons for HOME, MENU, BACK, and so forth. Instead, they'll either have touch-sensitive areas on the front of the device, or dedicated widgets or soft key areas on the main display.
  • An updated browser with a refreshed user interface, web page thumbnails, and better support for HTML5 (including the <video> tag).
  • An enhanced camera app with features like digital zoom, flash, color effects, and more.
  • Searchable SMS and MMS messages.

Availability

The Android 2.0 Software Developer's Kit (SDK) is available today so that developers can verify their programs will work with the new operating system. The first retail device running 2.0 will be the Motorola Droid. It's expected to be announced tomorrow at a Verizon event and is scheduled to come out sometime in November. The second device with 2.0 will probably be Sony Ericsson's Xperia X3/Infinity/Rachael (it's traditional for every Android phone to have at least 3 names). A release date for that model hasn't been announced but it's widely expected to be out before the end of the year as well.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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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8 comments
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  • Some REALLY great functionality

    There's some REALLY great functionality in Android 2.0!

    Hopefully, Android's HTML5 features mesh well with the iPhone's HTML5 features. This will allow developers to build web apps that target both platforms.
    linuser
    • Webkit

      Both browsers are using the same engine, so there
      should be compatibility.
      It's nice to see mobile browsers get up to speed
      with their desktop counterparts. Now all we need
      is Flash support. :)
      Theli
      • Webkit

        @Theli:

        Unfortunately, matching engines isn't enough. It is becoming increasingly common that the latest, greatest 3rd-party applications are calling for access to [u]native[/u] apps and APIs...something Apple have shown themselves unwilling to allow without much wailing, arm-twisting, and gnashing of teeth.

        That's why you can already see some of the latest, greatest apps being released for Android first. (Of course, this practice is further encouraged by Google's [i]laissez faire[/i] attitude regarding the 'Android Market' as opposed to Apple's all-too-typical control freak approach to their 'App Store'.) Then, when an iPhone version does appear, it will lack some of the top-line functionality.

        For example, Android's Facebook app includes a homescreen widget that offers real-time updates. You also get an automatically generated ('Live') folder of contact info for your Facebook friends, complete with photos & one-click dialing. And, of course, this app employs Android's handy notification bar for real-time messages & invites.

        Sounds pretty good, no? 'Course, some folks will claim the iPhone's (multiple click, non real-time, no notifications) version is somehow better. Much like old time WinMo users, dedicated iPhone fans have now taken to using vague qualifiers like 'robust' when their contentions are not supported by the facts. ;) See...

        http://mashable.com/2009/09/08/facebook-android/
        Justa Notherguy
  • Still sounds like apps on the SD card is missing...

    NT
    mrlinux
    • I would guess that's a permissions issue

      SD cards are formatted as FAT32, the OS and programs need ext2/3/4 for the correct permissions attributes. That's why all the hacks which allow for programs on the SD card make you partition the card to have FAT32 and ext2/3/4.

      Also programs run abysmally slow on the stock Class 2 cards, so I'm sure that's being taken into consideration. So really the best solution IMO is to give it enough internal memory that space could never possibly be an issue.

      The problem with the G1 is that its internal memory was more than 70% used up just by the basic OS, and this was a version 1.0 OS which was bound to expand in and of itself as more features became available. This hardly leaves any room for apps. There ought to be a goal of making sure that the base OS does not take more than 10% of the internal memory, that would make sure that it has plenty of room for growth of the OS plus plenty of space for apps. That would mean, given the approximate size of the OS now, that you'd need a minimum of about 2 GB internal memory today to have realistic growth size for the life of the phone. 2 GB is an achievable amount given the price of flash memory today.
      Michael Kelly
      • Well the other phones do not have that much...

        more internal memory, I had a Sharp SL-5500 Linux PDA and it gave you the choice on internal,CF or SD.
        They have an app in the app store (or least they did)
        called apps2sd, but you have to have root to get it to install.

        I think they should allow the users to setup to store apps on either (internal or SD) otherwise the applications in the market will be limited in capabilities. This ultimately will hurt the Android platform as of now the cheapest iPhone has more usable app storage space.
        mrlinux
  • RE: What's new in Android 2.0? Part 1: User features

    Ed, I have a question that I was wondering about the <video> support.

    What formats does it support? Any anyone whom's followed it's development in WHATWG can tell you, there is no baseline recommendation for a format. And Google has been weird on the video debate that flared up at WHATWG, more or less playing both sides of it.


    If Chromium is anything to go by, then I would assume that of the formats to be used, Ogg Theora would be one of them.
    But I am not going to do that, since I would question if Google would do that (considering YouTube's reservations on the format) and members of the OHA would let something like that by.

    So would you be so kind as to clarify this?
    IssacS
    • Oops, try again

      Sorry, your message was lost, try posting it again. If you had HTML or XML tags in it, that might be the cause.
      Ed Burnette