Google to unify smartphone, tablet Android OSes

Version 4 'Ice Cream Sandwich' will provide a common development target, and handle autoadaptation of apps' interfaces based on the specific device in use

Google gave Android developers several reasons to cheer today with its announcement of new versions of the operating system, as well as the addition of music and movies to the Android Market. With the next major Android OS release (version 4), code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich," Google will pursue having a single operating system for all types of smartphones and tablets.

[ Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

"Ice Cream Sandwich" will contain a revamped application framework with new functionality and APIs designed to automatically reconfigure applications to different mobile devices, Google officials said Tuesday during the opening keynote of the company's Google I/O developer conference.

"Ice Cream Sandwich" is due in the fourth quarter, so in the interim Google is releasing Android 3.1, an update to the "Honeycomb" 3.0 tablet version of Android. Its enhancements include making Android tablet devices USB hosts, so that USB devices can be hooked up to them, and allowing Android developers to create applications for the Google TV platform. No interim upgrades of the Android smartphone OS, now at version 2.3 ("Gingerbread") are planned before the release of the unified "Ice Cream Sandwich" Android 4.0 OS.

Google also announced that the Android Market now offers movies to rent and stream online and in devices. Rentals start at $1.99. Users will have 30 days to start watching the rented movies, and once started, movies must be watched within 24 hours.

Officials also confirmed that the company is in a private beta test of a cloud-based music service called Music Beta, which is now available by invitation only to U.S. users. It features a music manager application and allows users to import their iTunes libraries, including their playlists. A feature called Instant Mix generates playlists on the fly based on a chosen genre or song from the user's library. Music Beta will be free during its beta period, and feature a capacity for 20,000 songs.

Hugo Barra, Google's Android product management director, said that more than 100 million Android devices have been activated worldwide so far, and that there are more than 450,000 Android developers who have created some 200,000 applications. Users have installed 4.5 billion Android applications so far, with the most recent 1 billion happening in the past 60 days, he said.

There are about 310 different Android devices available in 110 countries, he said. More than 400,000 Android devices are activated every day, Barra said.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.