26
Sep
Last Updated: August 2nd, 2012

With Ice Cream Sandwich on the horizon, we at AP thought it would be a good idea to give you a roundup of what Google's been cooking up in Building 44. We actually know a good deal about the future of Android; I'm talking real, solid facts. These are features Android engineers have demoed or talked about, and acquisitions Google has made related to Android technology. We even have pretty clear timelines for most of them. A quick note before we get started: most of these videos are like, an hour long -- you're only expected to watch about 30 seconds of them, so pause whenever it gets boring. Anyway, let's get started!

It has come to our attention that, while most of the points in the article were officially announced, there are a couple (mainly "keyboard" and "text-to-speech) that are speculatory. It's very likely that these features are indeed being implemented, we have no way of knowing what Google is really up to.

Device to Device NFC Sharing

Source: The "How to NFC" talk at Google I/O 2011 

Due Date: Ice Cream Sandwich

Near Field Communication (NFC) allows devices to wirelessly transfer small amounts of data over a short range. Just tap one NFC-equipped device against another and the bits start flying. If you've been following Android news (and I know you do) you probably first heard about NFC from Google Wallet. Wallet's goal is to replace the credit card swipe with a phone tap. Saving you the "hassle" of digging out your card when it's time to pay. Well at Google I/O 2011,  Google revealed that they've been cooking up other uses for that neglected NFC chip: sharing!

Google plans on letting you transfer just about anything from one Android device to another with a tap. Just a tap. The phrase they kept using was "0-click sharing." There is no preparation, no app to open, just tap 2 devices together and it works. They demoed transferring contacts, web pages, apps, and coolest of all, YouTube. It's very slick. If you're in the middle of a video, you can tap to transfer the link and even the current time. If you have an app open, the other phone loads that app's Market page. But that's just the beginning. To quote the Android engineer giving the talk, "We want to build this into as many system apps as we can." Android developers have access to it too, so expect NFC sharing of pictures, music, files, calendar events -- you name it.

We were given a concrete release date at Google I/O 2011. I linked directly to the cool part of the video, but at the beginning of the demo, the Android Engineer giving the talk says, "Here's some ideas we're going to put in the Ice Cream Sandwich Release." You can't get more concrete than that.

Keep in mind this requires your phone to have the requisite NFC hardware, it's not just software. Right now that means you need a Nexus S or certain Galaxy S II variants, so most ICS upgraders will be out of luck. However, by the time Ice Cream Sandwich rolls around, NFC should be standard equipment on new phones.

Better Text to Speech

Source: Google's Acquisition of Phonetic Arts 

Due Date: Unknown

Text to speech is the "voice" of your phone. When you're using navigation, and the phone tells you to "Turn right onto Main Street," that speech is generated by Android's text to speech (TTS) engine. Text to Speech launched with Android 2.0 and hasn't seen a single update since. The current engine is called "Pico TTS" and it is, in a word, terrible. To be honest though, it's supposed to be terrible. It's right there in the name. "Pico" is derived from the Italian "piccolo," meaning "small". It was never meant to be good. The primary concern was making it fit into the Droid 1's 512MB ROM.

Today, however, phones regularly ship with 16GB of internal storage (partitioned, of course), and that means more room for fancy things like a great sounding text to speech engine. So Google, after realizing the current TTS sounded like GLaDOS's boring little sister, decided to upgrade. In December 2010, they whipped out their wallet and bought speech synthesis company Phonetic Arts.

pa_flyers

Phonetic Arts specialized in voice solutions for video games. Their most Android-applicable projects were PA Studio, which supposedly could generate a TTS voice from samples of a human voice, and PA Commentator, for sports games, which could “describe every play, mention every player name, every team name, score, stadium and every other detail of the game, all in a completely fluent, perfectly natural manner.” I wish I had a demo to show you, but after the takeover Google completely (and creepily) erased Phonetic Arts from the internet. However, by all accounts, Phonetic Arts was a worldwide leader in speech tech, and had an active R&D department. So while Madden commentary will still be terrible, Android's going to sound a whole lot better.

In the blog post announcing the acquisition, Google talked specifically called out the Google Translate text to speech feature and Android's Navigation instructions. Sadly, there's no timeline for when this is happening. However, the purchase was 9 months ago.

A Better Keyboard

Source: Google's Acquisition of Blindtype

Due Date: Unknown

Google acquired a keyboard company called "Blindtype" in October 2010. Blindtype had amazing autocorrect. How amazing? This amazing:

Mess up every letter? Blindtype's got you covered. Miss the entire keyboard? No problem. They just move keyboard to wherever your fingers think it should be. Google obviously saw their YouTube videos and started throwing money at the screen - they were public for only a few months before getting snatched up. As far as I can tell, the keyboard was never released.  Just like Phonetic Arts, their website was erased from the internet, but luckily archive.org got a hold of it this time. Google has owned Blindtype for a while now -- almost a year. I actually included it the last time I did this.  I'm starting to wonder if it will ever come out.

A Much Faster Emulator

Source: The "Android Development Tools" talk at Google I/O 2011

Due Date: As of May 2011 - a "couple" months away.

The Honeycomb emulator is slow. Really slow. You could measure its current performance in frames per minute. It drives developers crazy. Google knows crazy developers is a bad thing, and it's doing something about it. At Google I/O 2011, they demonstrated a much faster emulator, and even played a 3D game on it.

Why is it faster? It's still a real emulator running ARM code, but they're now going to make use of your video card. So anything that would normally be GPU accelerated on Android will now be GPU accelerated in the emulator. This means 3D games and, for Honeycomb and above, the entire UI. Pushing all those extra tablet pixels in software is the major problem with the Honeycomb emulator, that's why Gingerbread runs well and Honeycomb doesn't. GPU acceleration should give you a boost to reasonable performance. If that's not enough for you, they also mention the Google TV team is working on an x86 emulator for Android.

As you can see from the video, the GPU support is seriously alpha. All the mouse input was done in a separate window. They said they are "heavily working on it", but that it would be "a least a couple more months". That was 4 months ago. If ICS launches in October or November, that will make it 5 or 6 months. So is 5 or 6 months "a couple"?

Back To Open Source

Source: Android Developers Blog

Due Date: Ice Cream Sandwich

Honeycomb is closed source. Nobody can make a tablet without Google's blessing. The reason given is that Honeycomb was rushed out the door, and the code isn't good enough for an open source release. They're right you know, setting the emulator to anything smaller than a tablet will result in about a million force closes. Honeycomb just isn't as supportive of hardware as Gingerbread was. To save developers the headache of supporting a platform that wasn't ready, Android's openness got shelved.

Twitter-Andy-Rubin-definition-of-open

Luckily this is going to change. The big cheese said so himself on the Official Android Developers blog, "This temporary delay does not represent a change in strategy. We remain firmly committed to providing Android as an open source platform across many device types." Source code is coming back. This will make the modding community's life much easier. Cyanogenmod 8 (I got excited just typing that) and Ice Cream Sandwich will be able to get hacked onto just about anything.

Head Tracking APIs

Source: The Day One Keynote from Google I/O 2011

Due Date: Ice Cream Sandwich

This was part of the Ice Cream Sandwich Preview at the Google I/O Keynote. Head Tracking is exactly what it sounds like. Your phone or tablet will know where your head is. That lets you do simple things like have the video chat camera automatically zoom in on your face, or really cool things like changing the perspective of a 3D scene based on where you are looking. 3D head tracking, when done correctly, looks like this:

It's 3D without the headache! At I/O, Google demoed a version of this, but the above video of a Wii hack gives you a better idea of what it will look like. They demoed silly things like live video face distortion, and more useful stuff like a sound sensitive video chat zoom. This will all be available as APIs for developers, so expect it to be abused in strange and interesting ways when Ice Cream Sandwich comes out.

Android@Home

Source: The Day One Keynote from Google I/O 2011

Due Date: End of 2011

Home Automation for Android. Google wants "to think of every appliance in your home as a potential I/O device for Android Apps." At I/O, Google demoed controlling lights, speakers, and music players from an Android device. They even designed their own cheap, low power wireless communication protocol for things that aren't normally connected. They specifically called out building the protocol into lights, alarm clocks, thermostats, switches, and dishwashers.

Google is going to bring the app model to home automation. So if you want your alarm clock app to start your coffee maker, someone could write an app for that. Lighting Science will bring the first  Android@Home devices, an LED lightbulb and a switch, to market at the end of 2011. Hey, that's right around the Ice Cream Sandwich launch, isn't it?

All That Honeycomb Goodness On Phones

Source: The Day One Keynote from Google I/O 2011

Due Date: Ice Cream Sandwich

"We're taking all the good stuff we added to Honeycomb for tablets and we'll make it available everywhere." was the quote given at the Ice Cream Sandwich announcement at Google I/O. I know what you're going to say next: "Of course next version of Android has all the stuff from the previous version." You're right, it seems obvious, however, as I've discovered from my various trips around the internet, most people just aren't familiar with Honeycomb. So for the 98.6% of Android users that don't have a tablet, here's a review of the new features in 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2.

home_hero1_full

  • Hardware Accelerated UI - Silky smooth scrolling and transitions like that other phone.
  • Ground-up Multicore Support - Apps running on older Android versions can use a multicore processor, but this is the first time the Android Framework will take advantage of all that power.
  • The Tron Theme - Sadly Daft Punk isn't doing the sound effects.
  • Virtual Buttons - More awesome than you realize.
  • Resizable and Scrollable Widgets - The default launcher might actually be useful!
  • New Keyboard - You get a tab key.
  • Notification Controls - The Honeycomb Music Player has Play/Pause, Next and Back controls in the notification. More stuff like that.
  • A Tabbed Browser  - Which, by the way, is not Chrome.
  • Chrome Bookmark Sync - Just because it's not Chrome, doesn't mean we can't steal Chrome's features.
  • HD Youtube - Phones should start getting 720p screens, but if not, it will still make for great HDMI output.
  • Redesigned Camera, Calendar, Contacts, Gmail, Gallery and Email Apps - The Camera App is the biggest change. It's desperately needed a facelift. The UI is in a circle like a real life point and shoot. Everything else received a nice coat of polish.
  • Encrypted Storage - Privacy nuts and your I.T. Department will be happy.
  • USB Host and Bluetooth Support for Mass Storage Devices, Keyboards, Mice, Gamepads, Joysticks, and Cameras - Android's getting closer to a being real computer. A device with a full size USB port can now do 99% of the USB things a desktop can.
  • Wi-Fi Proxy Settings - Per access point proxy settings. If you have to ask you don't need it, but there are some people that really need it.
  • Auto Account Login - You don't ever have to peck in your Google credentials in Honeycomb. Ever. It's awesome and needed more on phones than it is on tablets.
  • Media Scanner is Out, Media Sync is In - Media Scanner is the app that triggers that "Preparing SD Card" notification. Have you ever downloaded something and an app didn't notice the new file? That's because Media Scanner is stupid. Media Scanner is dead now, and everything notices new files instantly.

Exciting times, right? According to Eric Schmidt, Ice Cream Sandwich should launch in October or November. In the meantime, keep checking AP for all the latest Ice Cream Sandwich goodness.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • jim

    I feel like a little kid that has just been told he's going to Disneyland soon.

    Excited to say the least ;)

    • http://techzole.com rahul

      thanks for sharing much detail update

  • nerdshowandtell

    please please please let me set a default keyboard for each app if I want or none at all!

  • keir stiegler

    This just got me really excited for the Nexus Prime :)

  • tarman

    It's sounds nice and all, but other than the Nexus 3 getting it, how soon until carriers start upgrading current phones that can handle ICS? It may be a year until we see this

    • Jose

      Don't worry about the carriers updates. ICS = Open Source = Cyanogen Mod 8 All the things!

      • Erik I Graul

        I agree... But not every one wants or knows how to root a android device...

        • Zonk

          Then they can wait a year for it.

  • aleis

    Nice write up! :)

  • Amador

    NICE!!!!!!
    Media Scanner is Out, Media Sync is In - Media Scanner is the app that triggers that "Preparing SD Card" notification. Have you ever downloaded something and an app didn't notice the new file? That's because Media Scanner is stupid. Media Scanner is dead now, and everything notices new files instantly.
    I HATED THAT STUPID MEDIA SCANNER!!!!!

  • JLishere

    Thanks for that comprehensive summary! I hope ICS will release with every single feature listed in that article. October / November can't come quickly enough.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Fantastic article, Ron. And the most exciting thing is - there are still countless things we don't even know about that will make it into ICS. The next 3 months are going to be highly exciting.

  • SiliconAddict

    What's annoying the crap out of me is that I have a Transformer with honeycomb. even though ICS is about to come out and go Open Source and the Transformer will get ICS, the transformer 2 is about to be released.

    $10 says developers are going to pretty much skip ROM development on the original Transformer and just go to 2. Leaving original Transformers high and dry. Thanks Google for putting out a sub par OS instead of waiting and doing it right.

    • Draconis2941

      $100 says you're wrong. Asus itself has done well, much better than Motorola, in getting updates out the door. Individual developers generally don't jump ship from devices they own and new ones crop up for new devices. There are still developers actively working the G1. If Revolver and Prime are discontiued as ICS roms someone else will make one.

    • http://td76.com/ Fortyseven

      If they can put CM7 out for my lowly HTC Hero, you can bet your ass they'll support the TF1. Relax. :P

      EDIT: Just realized Draconis basically said this. Whatev. :D

  • saz

    Fabulous.. congrats on a great post! well compiled from top to bottom. u made me read every word! things apart, ICS, if it brings all major updates as u mention(which i doubt coz rumors mention google may take away many features from ICS to jellybean) it wil be a major hit. i do strongly agree on keyboard part.. panda and tom poem did mention keyboard in the poem and my sixth sense says panda wanted us to understand that keyboard z going to get upgraded and wil b alot better.. instead v took it wrong and took it as a physical keyboard.ur post does support this!

    • Eric

      Is this in english?

      • micheal

        May be u need specs..

  • http://www.gigitsu.com GigiAUT

    I feel like Christmas is coming up sooner than I thought. I really can't wait for this to get released.

    Also, those Virtual buttons got me thinking. There's one thing that kinda spoils the fascia of the "jumbo phones", and it's those white capacitive buttons. Looking at my DesireHD, the bezel at the top is nice and thin, but the bottom is thickier because of the buttons.

    Could this mean the manufactureres could start designing phones with almost no bezel at the bottom so that fascia is just one sheet of glass? Sorta like that "other" phone, but with more screen real estate. I'm talking like almost the whole front side of the phone is display area. That would look really cool.

    • Dion

      I wouldn't say like that other phone, but like the nokia n9, which I might add has a really beautiful design...

    • Ron Amadeo

      Yes! Virtual buttons get us a step closer to Iron Man's phone. http://cdn.androidpolice.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/iron-man-2-case-study-perceptionnyc.jpg
      Maybe not the transparent part, but I want -- no, wait -- I NEED a phone with a bezel that small.
      And if you didn't read my virtual button article yet, here: http://www.androidpolice.com/2011/09/13/editorial-why-on-screen-virtual-buttons-in-android-ice-cream-sandwich-will-be-great/

    • ocdtrekkie

      I still have seen NO, and I mean NO evidence Ice Cream Sandwich will use virtual buttons on phones. This is PURE speculation.

      I want to see one piece of decent evidence pointing to it having it.

      • Ron Amadeo

        You're right, there isn't any hard evidence.

        The software will support it,(because honeycomb does, and because ICS has to run on tablets) but we don't know if anyone will actually build a button-less phone.

        That doesn't mean we aren't allowed to talk about it.

        • ocdtrekkie

          But both articles that have mentioned it so far has treated it as a fact. That it's coming, happening, etc.

          And actually, Honeycomb does not support software buttons on smaller screen densities. If you dropped the screen density down to phone size, it would forgo the software buttons, and switch to a Gingerbread style launcher.

  • boe

    The things I would have liked them to have improved over 2.3.4

    Better Exchange Server integration - search entire mailbox, better formatting - many of the features of WP7 would be nice.

    Better Voice Command/Dialing. Vlingo is about 500% more accurate but not well set up - for voice confirmation - e.g. call john doe at work - call john doe at work? a verbal yes to approve. Newest version requires too much touching, old version always nags you about your missed calls before making a call but still better than Google voice dialing.

    It would be nice if they made it easier to edit voice to text for dictated emails and text messages - still clumsy if it gets 95% of it accurate and you need to go back and just edit 1 word.

    Lastly - something like easy installer should be integrated so you can easily install apks without having to install an app to install apks.
    Other than that, I'm extremely happy with Android.

  • jbonics

    Really impressive stuff there. CM 7 made my droid 2 a dream . Cm8 is something we can't live without

  • scotto

    There's much to be excited about, but I can't tell you how excited I am about Chrome bookmark sync. FINALLY!

  • munfarida

    Android 3.0/1/2 do not have silky transitions at all. My Asus tablet stutters and lags worse than my HTC Incredible. Google rushed and botched the hardware acceleration pipeline to get Honeycomb out before the iPad 2. I'm not looking forward to how it will play out on phones; people have been begging Google for properly executed hardware acceleration and a good UI experience since Android came out to no avail.

  • L boogie

    All I can say is I want galactic- sized scoops of ICS especially since its coming with great servings of CM8 among other treats and looking forward to the next legion of superphones & tablets

  • Sorin

    I wish there would be more details about the Android@Home.

  • John

    Call me easily impressed, but I would just be happy to get things like Netflix and Crackle to run on ALL devices. Sick of the device hopscotch game. REAL sick of it.

  • phxboy

    What about battery life.. ugh, biggest issue. Not even addressed

    • Mesmorino

      Exactly. It's like those chickenheads don't realise that there is no point having all these features if you don't have the juice to run them

      • micheal

        chill dude.. rumors say nexus prime wil have 2000mAh battery..

  • TheBlackCat

    "Per access point proxy settings"

    Does that apply to VPN as well? I couldn't care less about proxies, but I need to be able to change my VPN based on the access point.

  • wackadroid

    Thats it?? I thought it was going to drive my car too???!!!!???

  • Cheeto

    ROFL >>>>Hardware Accelerated UI - Silky smooth scrolling and transitions like that other phone.

  • tech

    No mention on battery life? This is bothering

  • Simon Belmont

    Great write up. I am really looking forward to ICS.

    I do hope that the hardware acceleration stutters in Honeycomb are fixed up and smoothed out in ICS. Chrome bookmarks will be great.

  • http://twitter.com/daniel_ch_moran Daniel Chavez Moran

    O. M. G. That sounds totally awesome. While Apple users get to talk to HAL, Google's actually moving boundaries. Huzzah for 0-click sharing!

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