Android 3.0 aka Gingerbread

Android 3.0 will be called Gingerbread and will focus on offering a sleeker, friendlier user experience.

“Gingerbread”, the code name for the next version of Android, is a name we’ve had pegged ever since Cupcake flew off the shelves a year ago, but what’s more interesting is that Google’s going to give the smartphone OS an interface re-vamp with this new version.

The aim of this is twofold — to lure manufacturers away from plastering their own UIs on Android and, of course, to tackle the iPhone’s new iOS4, the latest version of the iPhone OS. It’s a bright move. Once Android 2.2 is released for more phones, the Android feature set will be virtually complete. Now it just needs to catch up with Apple in the slick-ness category, which will also bring in less hardcore mobile users. Android still has the feel of an early adopter’s platform, although that’s finally ebbing away.

More important is the Android update issue that stopping manufacturers from using their own UIs would solve. Whenever Google releases a new Android OS, manufacturers have to tweak their UI code, delaying the release of the update — for a whole year in the case of the HTC Hero. Stay tuned for more on Android 3.0.

Feature Android 3.0 iPhone 4 killer?

Only a smattering of people have Android 2.2 on their phones, but Google’s already talking about Android 3.0, confirmed as the next version of the OS. Could this be the real contender to the iPhone 4’s smartphone lead? Read on for the arguments…

Why it is

It’s the real next-gen Android OS
Android 3.0 will focus on improving the user experience of Android, and that’s the one thing we’ll admit Apple still does a lot better than anyone else. Using an iPhone is seamlessly slick — there may be a lot of awful apps for iPhone, but they never tarnish the slick ‘n’ shiny core iPhone experience. Android 3.0 is still too far off for us to tell how Google’s going to revitalise the Android UI, but we’re hoping for something special. Judging by the current Android launch schedule, we won’t see Android 3.0 land until the end of the year, at the earliest.

The early adopter phase is coming to an end
Android was the perfect early adopter’s platform when it arrived. It allowed you to fiddle around more than almost any other smartphone platform, it was a bold underdog and it’s named after a sci-fi construct. What more could a geek want? With “sexy” Androids like the HTC Desire making Android an attractive alternative for those that don’t have a subscription to Star Trek magazine, and devices like the tiny Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini opening the platform up to those that don’t want a hulking great big smartphone, this early geek phase is almost over. Match this mainstream recognition with a more accessible interface and you have a winning combo.

It may solve the fragmentation issue
Part of the reason Google is setting out to improve the UI of Android with 3.0 is that it wants to dissuade manufacturers from loading the OS with their own interfaces — such as HTC Sense and Sony Ericsson’s Mediascape/Timescape. Why? Because it’ll virtually solve the Android fragmentation issue in one sweep, if everything goes as Google hopes. Without additional software lumped on top of the bare OS, updates will be able to rolled-out much more quickly. Google may want to gives its own phones the exclusive for a while, but there’ll be no more waiting six months for an update to arrive as HTC/Sony Ericsson/Motorola fiddles around with its own user interface to get it working with Android x.x.

Why it isn’t

It’s too late to tie the loose ends together
androidhellGoogle stating its good Android intentions is all very admirable, but saying you want to change things is different to actually doing so. In order to achieve its goal of catching up with iPhone and solving the fragmentation issue, Google would have to do a 180 on its Android policy. In short, it would have to become Windows Phone 7.

What do we mean? At the root of Android’s problem is that it strives to be open, embracing difference and change. Manufacturers can do what they want with the Android OS, to an extent, and it is what has caused the legion of compatibility problems that are part of the experience of any Android phone. Windows Phone 7 side-steps this problem by cutting out the manufacturer customisation of the OS and forcing phone makers to stick to a very limited set of hardware profiles. Keep your phones looking similar and they’ll play along happily.

A change of interface alone isn’t going to alter the way manufacturers or buyers approach Android in the game-changing way that’s required. And Google’s not going to go all Microsoft on us with its hardware guidelines either, is it?

Manufacturers want to put a stamp on their phones
To improve the basic Android interface isn’t the only reason manufacturers use their own Android UIs. They care more about them than we, the buyers, do. They care because they’re desperate to prove that their phone needs to exist, has a reason to be. Forging this interface identity for a phone has become as important as making sure it’s packed with Wi-Fi and 3G. Unless Google enforces non-customisation, we think manufacturers won’t stop making their own UIs.

The question of whether it’s better to have a glitzy interface or an up-to-date Android has come to the fore recently, in the battle between the Google Nexus One and the HTC Desire — phones based on the same hardware design. The Desire has Sense, HTC’s custom interface, but the Google Nexus One has Android 2.2. Which would you prefer? Bear in mind it could be months (and months) before we see the HTC Desire Android 2.2 update released.

It’ll forever be tarred with the geek brush
Android may be stepping out of the early adopter basement and into the sun, but the framework the platform has set up for itself is a geek godsend, but not so good for the “norms”. Android is only at the height of its powers once you’ve spend a handful of hours tinkering, customising and fiddling, replacing a few core elements with things from the apps junkyard that is the Android Market. A new Android 3.0 interface won’t change this because it’s something that’s embedded under the skin of the Android platform. It’s in its little Android bones.

Even if Google did try to reverse this geek factor, it’d be turning its back on the progress it’s made in the last two years. Android isn’t perfect, but it is good, so that’s simply not going to happen.