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Google touts Android 1.5 features to coders

The search giant's new Cupcake SDK lets coders take advantage of video support, soft keyboards, a better browser, and other features coming to Android.

Google has released an Android 1.5 software developer kit, giving programmers access to several new features, such as video support and a faster browser that will appear in a forthcoming version of the company's open-source mobile-phone operating system.

Android competes in the smartphone market with operating systems such as Apple's iPhone OS, Nokia's Symbian, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. Although Google attracted many partners to participate in the Android project, called the Open Handset Alliance, so far, only Taiwanese handset maker HTC is offering models. New options are expected this year, though.

Google has said it initiated the Android project in an attempt to jump-start heavier and more sophisticated use of the Internet on mobile phones. Search advertising on mobile phones is a new area of potential revenue growth for the company, but Google also is eager to extend its online services such as Gmail more deeply into the mobile realm.

Among the changes users will be able to see in Android 1.5, code-named Cupcake, are the following:

• Video recording and playback, and videos can be uploaded to YouTube.

• Stereo Bluetooth and auto-pairing for better Bluetooth headset support.

• A Web browser with the latest WebKit technology, including the Squirrelfish technology for faster JavaScript. The browser also includes copy-and-paste support, search within the page, the unified search and address bar that debuted in Google's Chrome browser, and faster scrolling.

• "Much faster" acquisition of location through the GPS system.

• A "soft" screen-based keyboard.

• More widgets on the home screen, including a music player and picture frame, along with the current search and clock widgets.

• Applications can rotate when the phone's accelerometer detects a new orientation.

• User interface improvements to messaging, Gmail, calendar, browser, and other applications. The Gmail application supports batch operations so multiple messages can be deleted or archived at once, for example.

• Faster camera start-up and operation. Photos can be uploaded to Google's Picasa photo-sharing site.

• User photos in the contacts application.

There are changes under the hood, too, including the new Linux kernel version, 2.6.27. Android applications run at a higher level, though, using a variation of the Java technology for writing and running programs, and here there are changes too. Developers will be able to tap into several new application programming interfaces, providing easier support for a number of phone features:

• APIs for recording and playing back audio and video.

• Some support for the OpenGL graphics technology.

• A text prediction engine to speed typing.

• A framework for speech recognition.

• A framework to make it easier for background processes to interact with running applications' interface processes.

• APIs for widgets on the home screen and frameworks for various widgets.

However, Google cautioned, the APIs aren't final and could change before the final software developer kit is released, sometime toward the end of April.

"I encourage you to start working with this early-look SDK, but please know that the APIs for Android 1.5 have not been finalized. The majority of the APIs are settled, but there may be some changes before the final release. As a result, it's very important that you don't release applications based on this early-look SDK, since they may not work on real devices," Xavier Ducrohet said in a blog post announcing the SDK. "The applications you release should be built on the final Android 1.5 SDK release, which will be available around the end of this month."