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02 June 2008, 12:29

Android & the "Google smart phone"

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Google presented the current version of the Android operating system for smart phones at its Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco. The search engine provider is involved in this operating system as a member of the Open Handset Alliance.

Online videos of demonstrations at the conference provide a first impression of how future Android applications could look on smart phones with touch screens. To enable the device, users draw an individually specified line – potentially easier to remember than a combination of numbers – with a finger tip across an on-screen square made up of nine points. The list of incoming messages is accessed at the top of the display. Small applications like a calendar, address list or a Pac Man clone are reminiscent of the iPhone's widgets. The virtual desktop is larger than the display and can be moved at the touch of a finger. A magnifying glass helps with selecting the correct section before zooming, for example, into a web page.

With Android's help, future smart phones with integrated compass are planned to automatically integrate the geodata from Google Maps. A demonstration at the conference showed the Google Maps Street View images corresponding to the direction in which the demonstrator was pointing his mobile phone.

According to a conference report, the eventual use of Android is not to be restricted to high end phones – users of mass produced budget phones are also to benefit from some of the open operating system's features.

Android's integrated browser uses the open source WebKit render engine, which is also used in Apple's Safari browser – and in the iPhone. Every web page optimised for iPhone display should therefore also display well on an Android device. In addition, a special version of GoogleGears is said to run on the platform. GoogleGears is a browser extension that saves the data from web applications locally, allowing off-line operation.

To promote the development of its open smart phone platform, Google has set up events like, for example, the Android programming competition. The first round of this competition was recently completed; the second round will only start once the first Android-compatible devices have become available, which is expected to be in the second half of the year. So far, developers still have to rely on a PC emulator.


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