Google rolls out Android 3.1; next version will run on phones, tablets

Code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, next update will be 'one OS that runs everywhere'

Google has touted Android's growth to 100 million smartphones and tablets, kicked off a rollout of Android 3.1 and gave developers a preview of the next major Android update called "Ice Cream Sandwich."

The news came along with announcements of a beta online music service on Android and movie rentals on the Xoom tablet via the Android Market, with phones to follow soon.

The announcements came during a lightning round keynote talk at Google I/O in San Francisco, led by Hugo Barra, Google's director of Android product management.

The Android 3.1 update, which begins today to Android tablet devices, includes an Open Accessory API (application programming interface) to integrate Android apps with accessories for musical equipment, exercise equipment, robotics and more. It also supports a USB host mode to allow applications to manage USB peripherals such as stereos.

At the same time, Android 3.1 allows input from mice, joysticks and gamepads, and allows developers to create home-screen widgets that can be resized. A full list of new features can be found at the Android Developers site .

Starting this summer, Android 3.1 updates will also be available for Google TV, Google officials said.

Google also introduced a logo for the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android showing the familiar Android Droid icon lying flat, like an ice cream sandwich, which drew laughs from the assembled 5,000 developers at the conference.

Ice Cream Sandwich will be Android's next major release for later in 2011, Google officials said, without offering many details. The main theme of the next version is that it will be "one OS that runs everywhere" -- on phones and tablets of all sizes and shapes, as well as tablets that transition into laptops, Google officials said. Google picked the name as it has before, from desserts, going in alphabetical order, with the last entry, versions 3.0 known as Honeycomb, preceded by Gingerbread.

Ice Cream Sandwich will bring "all the good stuff" from version 3.0, the tablet version of the OS, but will have it available to phones, including such features as holographic interfaces, richer widgets, advanced applications and new developer tools, Google officials said.

Google also announced movie rentals on computers and Android devices for $1.99 and an online music service in beta that is free but by invitation only. The cloud -based Music Beta allows has a capacity for up to 20,000 songs.

Barra noted that Android has grown quickly since the first T-Mobile G1 Android phone was introduced more than two years ago. As he held a white G1 device, he noted, "We had many skeptics back then. Remember this?"

Android has been activated on 100 million devices made by 36 manufacturers and served by 215 wireless carriers globally, Barra said. The pace of activations has grown dramatically as well, Barra said, and there are now 400,000 Android device activations daily, Barra said.

Globally, there are 450,000 Android developers building apps and software for 310 Android devices in 112 countries, Barra said.

The Android Market has 200,000 apps, and user have installed 4.5 billion Android apps.

"It's an open platform and an open ecosystem that's gone well beyond the mobile phone," Barra said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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