Android 1.0 includes a hidden feature for Ajax web developers: the Google Gears plug-in. Version 0.4.13.1 can be found in the browser's plug-ins directory if you know where to look:
Because it's pre-installed, web pages displayed in Android's WebKit-based "Chrome Lite" browser can take advantage of Gears features out of the box, including:
- LocalServer - cache and serve web objects locally, even if your connection goes bad
- Database - store data locally in a SQLite database
- Geolocation - provide access to the user's GPS location
- Desktop - create shortcuts on the Android desktop (palmtop?)
The shortcut feature is pretty cool. To demonstrate it let's point the Android browser at the Google Gears sample applications page and run the Shortcut demo. The first time you try this, Gears prompts you to make sure the site has permission:
Select Yes and the web page will create a shortcut on the Home screen like this:
Touching the monkey icon opens a browser on the page specified by the developer.
Another nice Gears demo can be found at indiankey.com. After filling in a local database you can select a viewer that lets you run SQL queries against the tables. Here's how that looks in Android's browser:
To try it out yourself before the real phones come out in October, grab a copy of the Android 1.0 SDK. The emulator runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX.
Given that Android can support arbitrary browser plugins written using the NPAPI standard, it should be possible for other popular add-ons (*cough*Flash*cough*) to be ported to the gPhone. The only caveats are: they have to be written in native (C/C++) code, and there is no "official" way to install them on the device. Yet.
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