Google Preps Android 2.2 For Its Star Turn

In its forthcoming Android 2.2 mobile OS update, expected to arrive later this year, Google is adding features and functionality that could give Apple's iPhone a run for its money in the enterprise, where it's been steadily gaining ground. Google has added 20 new enterprise focused features in Android 2.2, code named Froyo.

Microsoft Exchange support is now part of the mix, said Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google, in a keynote Wednesday at Google's I/O conference in San Francisco. "We've become Microsoft Exchange-friendly, which means auto-discovery, integration with global address book, enforcement of security policies on devices," he said.

Google has built new APIs for Android device administration that allows data to be remotely wiped from devices in the event that they're lost. As was seen in the Gizmodo lost iPhone case, remote wipe is a crucial feature for companies whose businesses depend on protecting trade secrets.

Android 2.2 will also support Google's new Application Data Backup API, which is designed for ISVs. In terms of audience reaction, though, Google's Cloud-To-Device Messaging API was the biggest hit.

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The Cloud-To-Device API lets developers deliver Web-based information, such as Google Maps directions, down to a mobile device. It's similar in some ways to iPhone push notifications, but Gundotra downplayed this angle with a thinly veiled dig at Apple and suggested that Google has done a more thorough engineering job.

"This is not push notifications designed to compensate for a lack of basic functionality like multitasking in the OS," he said, triggering a wave of giggling throughout the conference hall.

Wi-Fi tethering is another new Android 2.2 feature that had the crowd at I/O hooting and hollering. Tethering allows a mobile device to serve as a portable hotspot for connecting other devices. The iPhone has supported tethering since iPhone 3.0, but AT&T has dragged its feet in enabling this feature for subscribers.

Android 2.2 supports Adobe's Flash Player 10.1, and Adobe on Thursday unveiled its Flash Player 10.1 pre-beta for Android. Not surprisingly given the recent turmoil between Apple and Adobe over Flash, the audience cheered lustily when Gundotra took another shot at Apple.

"It turns out that on the Internet, people use Flash," Gundotra quipped. "And part of being open means you're inclusive, rather than exclusive, and that you're open to innovation."

NEXT: Android 2.2's Faster Performance ... All mobile vendors talk about how they're speeding performance, but Google came equipped with hard information on how it is making Android faster in the 2.2 release. The addition of a JIT (just in time) compiler in Android 2.2 makes apps run two- to five-times faster on the exact same hardware, according to Gundotra.

And the Android browser, Gundotra said, is two- to three-times faster in Android 2.2 due to Google's use of the same Javascript interpreter it uses in the Chrome browser. "It's critically important to make the Android browser rock," he said.

Google also offered a sneak peek at features that are coming down the road. Google has been working with standards committees to introduce geolocation to the Android browser, in order to further usage of the accelerometer, which reacts to the tilt and direction of a device, from within the browser, Gundotra said.

Android has come a long way in just the past few months in terms of market adoption. Google's daily activation rate for Android devices stood at 60,000 in February, but that number has now passed the 100,000 device mark, Gundotra said. The Android Marketplace, meanwhile, now has more than 50,000 apps and 180,000 developers.

Google still has some issues to tackle with Android, such as the growing fragmentation of different versions running on different devices. But if Google addresses this in Android 2.2 as planned, the release looks capable of helping the search giant continue its impressive inroads to the hearts and minds of mobile workers.