SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – At its annual developers conference,
Google outlined plans to align separate versions of Android and extend the
software to support USB and home automation.
Support for tablet, smartphone and television versions of
Android will come together in a so-called Ice Cream Sandwich version of the
software to be released as open source code in the fourth quarter. The current
Honeycomb version 3.0 for tablets and a 3.1 upgrade due within weeks will not
be made available as open source, but their features will be rolled into the
code released at the end of the year.
With the latest announcements, it becomes clear only a
handful of top tier OEM partners will have Honeycomb tablets this year. The
rest of the industry will have to wait for the release of Ice Cream Sandwich to
power a broader set of tablets in 2012.
Meanwhile, GoogleTV client software will continue to be a
separate variant of Android. This summer Google will make available a new
version of that code based on Honeycomb 3.1. Apps developed for that version
will become available in a new GoogleTV section of the public Android apps
If it all sounds a bit confusing, it is. Google has released
eight versions of Android in two and a half years. It is currently being used
on 310 different devices and was activated on 100 million phones in 2011 with
activations tracking at 400,000 a day, said Hugo Barra, director of Android
product management in a Google I/O keynote.
In a fireside chat with Google's Android managers, one
developer complained of fragmentation of the code base becoming "a
nightmare for developers, especially game developers," drawing supporting
applause from an audience of several hundred peers.
"We want one OS that runs everywhere, and we want to
insulate developers from differences in devices," said Mike Cherod, a
Google developer working on Ice Cream Sandwich, alluding to tools in the works
to more easily support a single application on different size displays.
Separately, Google announced an alliance of more than a
dozen partners that will define a standard plan for upgrading Android devices in
the field. The effort aims to help users keep pace with Google's fast release
The group includes AT&T, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung,
Sony Ericsson, Verizon and Vodaphone. They have initially pledged to make any Android
upgrades available on devices in the field for the first 18 months after their
At the end of the day Android is a kind of hybrid, a planned
set of open source releases by a Google team moving fast as it can, and trying
to respond to its community of OEMs, developers and users. But it is not 100
percent community driven or entirely open source, said Andy Rubin, head of
Android at Google in a press Q&A.
"In my opinion a community processes doesn't work when
when you are adding APIs because it's hard to tell what's a release or a beta,
so someone could take an early version of code and build devices with it that
would not be compatible," said Rubin.
"So we decided to use scheduled releases going forward
because part of our job is to make sure [the code and products based on it]
stay together," Rubin said. "We still accept submissions from the
community, but it comes out in a much more controlled way," he added.
Under the covers, the plumbing is sometimes messy with many
issues still being worked on, said Google developers in an Android fireside
chat. For instance, the company aims to rewrite parts of its core scheduler to
improve audio latency which it admits is not up to the level of Apple's iOS.
"We hope to do something about [the audio latency
problem] in Ice Cream Sandwich," said David Sparks, technical lead for
media frameworks on Android. "Some drivers and chip sets can add a hundred
milliseconds of latency today, but we know we also have problems in how we
schedule low latency audio tasks—that's our biggest issue," he said.