Today Google launched its newest flagship phone, the Nexus S, and with it, the next version of the Android operating system, code-named Gingerbread (Android 2.3). The new platform introduces a number of new features for end users and developers alike, most notably several user interface changes including a new keyboard and text selection tool, support for NFC technology, better power management, Internet (VoIP/SIP calling, better copy and paste, gyroscope support and more.

 

For Users

The new features for users in Gingerbread are detailed here on the Android Developers website. To summarize, those are as follows:

  • UI Refinements: the new UI has been redesigned to be easier, faster and more power-efficient. The theme's background has been changed to black in areas like the notification bar, menus and other parts of the UI. Changes in menus and settings have also been introduced for simplified use and navigation.
  • New Keyboard: The keyboard has been updated for faster input and editing. The keys have been reshaped so presses are more accurate, and an idea stolen from add-in applications like SwiftKey, the new keyboard now displays word suggestions based on what you're typing. You can switch to voice mode from the keyboard to replace selections, too. Multi-touch key-chording lets you enter numbers and symbols with keyboard shortcut combos, instead of having to change to the numeric keyboard mode.
  • Word Selection Improved: Now you can select a word via press-hold, a similar gesture to what's used on iPhone for the same task. On Gingerbread, this takes you to a free-selection mode where you can adjust the area needed to select by dragging two bounding areas together.
  • Copy/Paste Improved: The press-hold gesture mentioned above also starts the copy/paste process. After selecting content, press anywhere in the selection mode to copy the text.
  • Improved Power Management: Android now is more active in managing apps that keep the device awake, even going so far as to close apps when appropriate. In the Application Settings, users can now see how the battery is being used by various apps.
  • Application Control: A shortcut to Manage Applications is now in the Options menu from the Home Screen. A new Running tab displays a list of active apps and the storage/memory being used. From here, apps can be stopped, ending the need for add-on "task killer" type applications to do this.
  • Internet Calling: Internet Calling (SIP) addresses can be added to Contacts and calls can be placed from the Quick Contact or Dialer. A SIP account is needed for this feature to work. This feature will be available depending on manufacturer and carrier support.
  • NFC: Near-field communications support is now included in the OS. With NFC, you can "touch" or "swipe" an NFC tag embedded in a poster, sticker, ad, or anywhere else and then be directed to a website associated with the URL included in the tag's data. NFC support will be determined by the phone's hardware.
  • Downloads Management: Downloads can now be access and manager from the browser, email or within an app. A new Download Manager is introduced for this.
  • Camera: The camera app now provides access to multiple cameras on the device, if the phone includes more than one (such as a front-facing camera, for example).

Gingerbread For Developers

Developers need to be aware of the following features:

  • Concurrent garbage collector: The Dalivik VM introduces a new, concurrent garbage collector that minimizes application pauses, helping to ensure smoother animation and increased responsiveness in games and similar applications.
  • Faster event distribution: The plaform now handles touch and keyboard events faster and more efficiently, minimizing CPU utilization during event distribution. The changes improve responsiveness for all applications, but especially benefit games that use touch events in combination with 3D graphics or other CPU-intensive operations.
  • Updated video drivers: The platform uses updated third-party video drivers that improve the efficiency of OpenGL ES operations, for faster overall 3D graphics performance.
  • Event Handling: Applications that use native code can now receive and process input and sensor events directly in their native code, which dramatically improves efficiency and responsiveness. Native libraries exposed by the platform let applications handle the same types of input events as those available through the framework. Applications can receive events from all supported sensor types and can enable/disable specific sensors and manage event delivery rate and queueing.
  • New Sensor Types: Android 2.3 adds API support for several new sensor types, including gyroscope, rotation vector, linear acceleration, gravity, and barometer sensors. Applications can use the new sensors in combination with any other sensors available on the device, to track three-dimensional device motion and orientation change with high precision and accuracy. For example, a game application could use readings from a gyroscope and accelerometer on the device to recognize complex user gestures and motions, such as tilt, spin, thrust, and slice.
  • Open API for Native Audio: The platform provides a software implementation of Khronos OpenSL ES, a standard API that gives applications access to audio controls and effects from native code. Applications can use the API to manage audio devices and control audio input, output, and processing directly from native code
  • Native graphics management: The platform provides an interface to its Khronos EGL library, which lets applications manage graphics contexts and create and manage OpenGL ES textures and surfaces from native code.
  • Native access to Activity lifecycle, window management: Native applications can declare a new type of Activity class, NativeActivity whose lifecycle callbacks are implemented directly in native code. The NativeActivity and its underlying native code run in the system just as do other Activities -- they run in the application's system process and execute on the application's main UI thread, and they receive the same lifecycle callbacks as do other Activities. The platform also exposes native APIs for managing windows, including the ability to lock/unlock the pixel buffer to draw directly into it..
  • Native access to assets, storage: Applications can now access a native Asset Manager API to retrieve application assets directly from native code without needing to go through JNI. If the assets are compressed, the platform does streaming decompression as the application reads the asset data. There is no longer a limit on the size of compressed .apk assets that can be read. Additionally, applications can access a native Storage Manager API to work directly with OBB files downloaded and managed by the system. (Dev tools for creating and managing OBB files will not be available until early 2011.)
  • Robust native development environment: The Android NDK (r5 or higher) provides a complete set of tools, toolchains, and libraries for developing applications that use the rich native environment offered by the Android 2.3 platform.
  • Internet telephony: Developers can now add SIP-based internet telephony features to their apps. Android 2.3 includes a full SIP protocol stack and integrated call management services that let applications easily set up outgoing and incoming voice calls, without having to manage sessions, transport-level communication, or audio record or playback directly.
  • Near Field Communications (NFC): The platform's support for Near Field Communications (NFC) lets developers get started creating a whole new class of applications for Android. Developers can create new applications that offer proximity-based information and services to users, organizations, merchants, and advertisers. Using the NFC API, applications can respond to NFC tags "discovered" as the user "touches" an NFC-enabled device to elements embedded in stickers, smart posters, and even other devices. When a tag of interest is collected, applications can respond to the tag, read messages from it, and then store the messages, prompting the user as needed.
  • Mixable audio effects: A new audio effects API lets developers easily create rich audio environments by adding equalization, bass boost, headphone virtualization (widened soundstage), and reverb to audio tracks and sounds. Developers can mix multiple audio effects in a local track or apply effects globally, across multiple tracks.
  • Support for new media formats: The platform now offers built-in support for the VP8 open video compression format and the WebM open container format. The platform also adds support for AAC encoding and AMR wideband encoding (in software), so that applications can capture higher quality audio than narrowband.
  • Access to multiple cameras: The Camera API now lets developers access any cameras that are available on a device, including a front-facing camera. Applications can query the platform for the number of cameras on the device and their types and characteristics, then open the camera needed. For example, a video chat application might want to access a front-facing camera that offers lower-resolution, while a photo application might prefer a back-facing camera that offers higher-resolution.