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Monday, 31 May 2010

What is Froyo?

The Android platform should see its next update, codenamed Froyo, in the next few months. That’s right, Froyo, short for FROzen Yoghurt, isn’t just a tasty treat anymore, it’s software for your superphone. You might be content with the current software 2.1 (aka Eclair), but we suspect that Froyo will bring some awesome and must-needed improvements. Even though Google is staying tight lipped so far about exactly what Froyo will include, the direction taken by the past few updates has given us some insight into what this version may include. Here’s what you can reasonably expect from Froyo.    

3D UI Polish

The most apparent difference in Froyo will be the UI tweaks. This has been an ongoing theme in each Android build since the 1.5 update (Cupcake). Then, starting with the high-resolution Android 2.0 devices, Google stepped it up and redesigned icons and fonts to look significantly better. This sort of polish will continue with the Froyo update.

Android 2.1 brought us 3D updates to the Gallery and App Launcher. These two things really stand out from the rest of Android, which makes them a potential harbinger of things to come. It looks like Google is giving us a glimpse of a new UI convention. For example, an adapted version of the 3D Gallery experience seems natural for the Music app. We foresee tiles of album art that float and tilt as you rotate the phone, just like the 2.1 Gallery. Better get that album artwork in shape for maximum effect. The stock Music app is also long overdue to receive an equalizer – just about a year late on that one. We also think that the 3D scrolling effect from the 2.1 App Launcher makes sense for an updated Contacts app. These changes would tighten up the look of the platform and make better use of the graphical capabilities of newer Android handsets.

The Keyboard Goes Multitouch

Android launched on the G1 without any kind of software keyboard. Eventually, the 1.5 update brought us a somewhat usable software version. It wasn't a bad keyboard, but it certainly wasn't a great one. Each successive update, though, has brought improvements to the virtual keyboard. In Froyo we may see real multitouch in the keyboard. Not the weirdly invisible multitouch that Google claims rolled out in 2.0 on the Droid, but the real thing.

When users complained about the lack of multitouch on the Nexus One browser and keyboard, Google pointed out that it was there but wasn’t implemented like users expected. The argument was apparently all bluster because a few weeks later, pinch zooming rolled out to users. The fact that Google is adding multitouch implementations makes us believe that a real multitouch keyboard is in the cards.

Speed, Speed, Speed

The current Dalvik Java compiler on Android is notoriously slow, which sours the app experience. Each Android update has tweaked this feature (especially 1.5 which made running apps tolerable), but it’s still not good enough. Even on a 1GHz device like the Nexus One, Android apps can be painfully slow to launch and run. The Java compiler has been due for an upgrade for some time, and it’s very possible that will happen in Froyo with the addition of the JIT compiler. This should offer a significant performance increase for applications; some apps could run up to three times faster. As of the 2.0 update the JIT compiler code has been in Android, but it’s unfinished. With mobile apps definitely the major selling point of a smartphone, Google would do well to finish JIT in time for a Froyo rollout.

One solid detail on Froyo is that it will be based on version 2.6.32 of the Linux kernel. This has the potential to speed up the overall OS significantly. A new feature is the use of memory soft limits. This will make it easier for the system to reclaim memory, so kick that task killer to the curb once and for all. The kernel also contains improvements to power management so Android can make better use of those speedy Snapdragon CPUs.

Speaking of hardware, Google is likely to continue optimizing the OS based on the hardware platforms people are using. Right now that’s Snapdragon and OMAP. Until version, 1.6 Android didn’t even support any chipset other than the tired old 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201. But we feel that support will be deemphasized in Froyo. It’s almost certain that the G1 and HTC Magic will be left in the dust here. Some have even suggested that support for the older Qualcomm 7201 will be gone. We think that’s unlikely, but have trouble seeing how a phone on this chipset will even get a Froyo update without a Sense or MotoBLUR modified version being provided.

Anything To Be Wary Of?

If you don’t like Google Buzz, Froyo could disappoint. While we don’t think Google will be cramming your Gmail app all full of Buzz, expect to see more Buzz integration. Google just announced a Buzz widget for Android, and you can count on it being bundled with Froyo. It’s also likely that Google will expand on the widget making it into a full-on app. If you allow your Android phone to check your location, the Buzz app will automatically return Buzz posts from the immediate vicinity. But if you like Buzz, it will be better than the web app version.

You might also be disappointed with an inability to install apps to the SD card in Froyo. It’s unlikely Google will have that feature ready in Froyo unless they pull back on their rapid fire updates. It would be nice to have this much anticipated feature sometime in the future, but all we know about Android post-Froyo is an update name: Gingerbread. If we don’t see apps on the SD card by then, it isn’t happening.

So there you have it! There’s no solid release date, but as with previous Android updates it’s probably going to be sooner than you think. We expect an OTA update to hit the Nexus One before anything else, but cross your fingers that your carrier of choice doesn’t hold it up for additional testing.

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