In the world of Android smartphones, the ecosystem moves swiftly. It wasn’t long ago Android device owners were salivating over Cupcakes and Donuts (Android versions 1.5 and 1.6 respectively). In the span of roughly six months, Android has gone through two major revisions; Android 2.0 (Eclair) and Android 2.2 (Frozen Yogurt or Froyo).
Prior to Google I/O this past May, details of what exactly would be included in the final release were sparse. Early testers reported various improvements including a noticeable boost in speed. Yet development was in full swing and it was hard to figure out just when exactly Android 2.2 would be deemed ready for mass consumption.
At the I/O conference, Google made it’s official announcement to the world and answered many of the questions that had arisen about the latest version of their mobile OS. In addition to a slew of new APIs and developer features, Android 2.2 would come with a number of improvements for front-end users. It boasts a JIT compiler, wifi and USB tethering capabilities, support for Flash, as well as several other improvements and updates.
Taking the prize for the most noticeable, yet invisible feature is the JIT compiler which brings a 2-5x performance boost systemwide. JIT stands for “just in time.” In other words, Froyo is able to do a bit of analysis on the code it’s about to run and make some optimizations to how it handles that code. All that magic happens on the fly and works regardless of the app or which OS version it was targeted to run on. Developers don’t need to change a thing. Animations are less jerky, games run with a higher framerate, and because the device doesn’t have to work as hard, it uses less power thus extending battery life. The bottom line is the JIT compiler makes Android better all over.
Tethering refers to the ability to connect your laptop or desktop to your mobile phone and use the phone’s data connection as the machine’s Internet connection. Froyo includes two types of tethering; USB and wifi. With USB tethering, you connect the device to your computer using a USB cable. This of course means you’re limited to a single connection. Multiple devices can be connected via the wifi hotspot option which essentially turns your handset into a Mifi.
Mention tethering to an iPhone user and they’re likely to launch into an invective-filled tirade against AT&T. Last year, the carrier promised tethering capabilities, but failed to deliver. Since then, Apple and AT&T have gone on to announce tethering a second time along with the cost, $20 per month. Thus, it came as a shock to Android fans when Google announced it was including tethering in Froyo; for free. Not only do Android users get a useful feature, they have another thing they can hold over their iPhone carrying compadres.
As much as people love to hate Flash, it does have it’s uses. Namely, video on the web. Changes are certainly in progress right now with the emergence of HTML5, but it’s hard to deny that Flash is still used quite liberally on the web. With Froyo, Android is able to run a mobile version of Flash and comes as a welcome addition to the speedy browser. It was no doubt made possible by the performance boosts included in Froyo. This is likely the same reason, it won’t be backported to earlier versions of Android.
Flash performs moderately well on Android. Admittedly, video playback performance suffers from low framerates. However, things like simple games or site menus run smoothly. Users are given the option to turn Flash on all the time or to selectively choose components on a page to load. At least now users have the choice of whether or not they want to experience Flash content or not. It’s better than seeing gaping holes in web pages.
As previously mentioned, Froyo also includes a number of minor improvements. Exchange and enterprise control of devices are better supported and the gallery and camera apps have been completely rewritten. Developers will be happy to see several API’s were improved and many new options were added. Notably, developers can enable their apps to be installed on the device’s removable media. This helps to free up internal storage on the device. Overall, the Android experience in Froyo is much more polished and if the pace of development is maintained, it won’t be long before it is the best smartphone OS on the market.
The biggest negative of Froyo is that it leaves much of the original crop of Android phones behind. Owners of the G1, MyTouch 3G, Hero, and Moment will be forced to root their phones or buy a new device to experience the latest in Android goodness. While it is tempting to bash Google for this, it is not right to do so. Those devices contain obsolete hardware and are simply not equipped to run Froyo. If Android is to move forward, it will need to have hardware to support it. With carrier subsidies working the way they do, two years seems like the maximum life span of a smartphone.
Froyo is a welcome addition to the Android world. It makes an already good mobile OS more mature. Perhaps this is the most important update yet as it brings Android on par with iOS. The competitors do 1-up each other in certain areas (Android is better at multitasking, iOS is a better music player for example), but the average person would be happy with either. The OTA update push to Nexus One’s has started and there are rumblings of a Droid update coming too. It shouldn’t be long before new devices start shipping with 2.2 on them. There is much excitement and innovation going on in the mobile space right now and it shows no signs of slowing down.