Google announces Nexus S and Gingerbread, gives clues to Android development process

In announcing the next update to Android (version 2.3, a.k.a. Gingerbread), a video on Google's blog offered insights into how the company develops each Android release.

As you've probably read by now, Google today officially announced Gingerbread (a.k.a. Android 2.3) along with the new Samsung Nexus S handset. Gingerbread brings a handful of new features to Android:

  • General speed enhancements and streamline user interface
  • Improved text input
  • Improved one-touch copy and paste
  • Better power management
  • Options for monitoring and controlling running applications
  • VOIP calling enhancements
  • NFC hardware support (lots of possibilities there but most immediately mobile or e-wallet payment features)
  • Easier download management
  • Access to any cameras via the Camera app (useful for front-facing cameras)
  • Multimedia and gaming improvements for developers including support for built-in gyroscopes

All these features are noteworthy. None of them are going to immediately deliver a wealth new features to users, but the improved text and copy/paste will be improvements that most users will notice and enjoy. Better power management may not be immediately noticed, but it is something that many users should welcome, particularly power users who are also likely to appreciate the application and download management improvements. The other advances are likely to become apparent on newer Android devices (particularly NFC and gyroscope support along with improved multi-camera capabilities) and as developers beginning taking advantages of the under-the-hood improvements.

Interestingly enough, despite hopes that Gingerbread would improve how third-party applications display and run on tablets, those advances are now certain to be relegated to the Honeycomb (Android 3.x) release. While the advances in Gingerbread are noteworthy, what captured my attention most was the video included in the official Google blog entry discussing the development of Gingerbread and the Nexus S.

Android's biggest criticisms, particularly from the IT sector, are the fragmentation of the platform across so many manufacturers (with varying hardware, varying skins to customize the user interface) and varying update schedules that are dictated by both the manufacturer of a device as well as the carrier. This contrasts sharply with the tight control that Apple and RIM (and now Microsoft with Windows Phone 7) in terms of hardware design and releasing updates. Updates and patches are, of course, a big concern to IT departments charged with supporting and securing devices and data (even personally owned devices in many cases). By contrast, the Android approach to these issues can seem haphazard.

Hearing Google's approach to identifying a manufacturer as almost a launch partner for each Android update and working closely with them to develop the device and update illustrates that Google does still factor tight integration and planning into each update. The result is that a point device (the Nexus S in this case) is really optimized for a particular update in a similar fashion to how Apple ties the major iOS updates to a new iPhone. It shows Google striving for a middle ground between Apple's level of control/integration and Google's overall open source commitment to Android – the video mentions that Google open sources the code to all other companies after the initial device is developed. That's an interesting insight into the Google mindset of software development. It won't likely mollify CIOs uncomfortable with Android's lack of easy and controlled update installation compared to Apple and RIM where an update can be scheduled, required for access, and even pushed out by IT in RIM's case, but it is interesting to note that Google does take a somewhat similar approach in development to Android's competitors. Of course, Gingerbread's lack of advances to providing higher levels of enterprise security and manageability aren't likely to win Android any fans in the IT camp (as opposed to Apple, who has introduced more enterprise-grade/IT-oriented features in each iOS release). This update looks to be primarily aimed at users and developers. What's your take? Excitedly waiting for Gingerbread on your Android phone? Ready to buy a Nexus S? Or are you disappointed that there isn't more meat to this update? Let us know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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