Following the announcement of their new cloud-based music service, Google today unveiled the latest version of their Android mobile operating system.
Code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, the next update is mostly dedicated to converging Android’s diverging smartphone and tablet code branches into a single united trunk.
If that sounds familiar, it should: it’s exactly what Apple had to do when it forked the iOS code for the original iPad’s release. At the time, the iPhone and iPod Touch were on version 3.1.3, while the iPad shipped with version 3.2.
Even after Apple released iOS 4.0 in July of last year, the iPad stayed at version 3.2.x; it wasn’t until iOS 4.2.1 was released in November 22nd of last year that the same fork of iOS ran on both the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
Google has had a similar problem with Android. While the smartphone branch of Android has remained at 2.3 Gingerbread, the tablet-specific version of Android is 3.0, Honeycomb.
Ice Cream Sandwich will be version 3.1 of the Android oprating system, uniting a single UI and set of features across all devices.
According to Google, Ice Cream Sandwich will be “all open source,” which should be a relieve to hackers who have been frustrated that the publicly available Android source code has been stuck at version 2.3
well past the release of Honeycomb.
New features unique to Ice Cream Sandwich will include resizeable widgets in the application launcher, support for external controllers like the Xbox 360 controller, the ability to use the Android Marketplace on Google TV, support for USB devices, and more.
Ice Cream Sandwich will technically start rolling out today to the Motorola Xoom and the Google TV. As for when it will drop for smartphones and other tablets, Google’s keeping mum on an exact time-frame, but given how much power handset manufacturers have in the Android ecosystem when it comes to holding back updates, I wouldn’t be surprised if many existing Gingerbread smartphones never saw the update at all.