updated 05:00 pm EDT, Tue May 10, 2011
Android Ice Cream Sandwich shown at Google IO
Google in the many announcements it gave at its first Google I/O keynote gave its very first look at the next version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. The OS is designed primarily to bring Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) features to phones, smaller tablets, and other devices. For most, that will bring the more visual multitasking, the "holographic" interface and new launcher, and the dynamic menu bar.
Few genuinely new features were shown, although intelligent head tracking will be one of the additions, Google said. Example apps tracked a user's head in real time to simulate a 3D display and let users adjust facial features. A virtual camera operator can also dynamically switch attention and focus, which was shown off through a video chat example that shifted attention from person to person depending on who was speaking.
Ice Cream Sandwich won't ship until sometime in the fall but might reach some existing devices. Google's new anti-fragmentation promise for timely and sustained upgrades may reduce the likelihood of phone designers delaying or ignoring releases.
The build will also be the first since Android 2.3 to have posted open-source code. Google had claimed earlier that it couldn't post Android 3.0 because the rush to get it out to market led to too many shortcuts and wouldn't have been ideal for non-tablets. While true, critics have also noted that it conveniently prevented small companies from producing a rash of excessively cheap Android 3.0 tablets like those that surfaced with Android 2.2.
Mobile VP Andy Rubin in a question and answer session after the show maintained that Android was still open in spite of the nearly year-long gap in source code. The bias was simply towards Google for the brunt of development over the community, he argued. Open-source advocates have usually disagreed with the point of view since they believe true open code lets the community genuinely contribute to the release where Google alone decides what code is allowed and rarely takes outside help.