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Speed central to Google's Android 2.2 plans

Also coming with the Froyo release: better Exchange integration, Wi-Fi hot spot abilities, better Bluetooth--and at least a few weeks' wait.

Better performance topped the feature list for Android 2.2, aka Froyo, the next version of Google's mobile-phone operating system detailed Thursday.

Froyo's Dalvik virtual machine, the foundation that actually runs Android applications, includes new technology that runs software two to five times faster for heavy-duty applications, said Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering, at the company's Google I/O conference.

This chart shows the factor by which Android 2.2 exceeds 2.1 on various speed tests.
This chart shows the factor by which Android 2.2 exceeds 2.1 on various speed tests. Google

Speed is a big issue for the small, power-sensitive processors in mobile phones, especially as the smartphone duties expand to include tasks such as videoconferencing and games. Also faster is the Android browser, which inherits the V8 engine in Google's Chrome for running Web-based JavaScript programs. And Froyo manages memory better for faster task switching, Google said.

Also on the list is better integration with Microsoft Exchange, improvements to the Android Market for finding and installing applications, the ability to turn a phone into a portable Wi-Fi hot spot, and the ability to install applications on the SD memory card rather than build-in memory.

Google also plans to allow developers to automatically update their applications in the wild if they so choose, rather than merely prompting users to update with notification messages.

Those who wanted Android 2.2 today, though, were disappointed.

"Android 2.2 will be here soon, and some devices will get the update in the coming weeks," said Xavier Ducrohet, technical leader for the Android software developer kit, in a blog post Thursday. SDK Tech. "I invite application developers to download the new SDK and tools and test your applications today."

Android has become a very important part of Google's overall strategy. Not only does it further the market for Net-connected, application-rich smart phones, but it provides a natural mobile connection to numerous Google services--advertising not least among them.

Gundotra's speech was filled with potshots at Apple's iPhone and iPad, the most direct competitors for the 60 and counting Android-powered devices on the market today. Gundotra touted statistics showing Android phone sales surpassing iPhone sales in the United States.

Why develop Android? "We faced a draconian future, where one man, one carrier, one device would be our future," he said, offering a reference to George Orwell's "1984" in a reference to Apple's rebel ad of that year and its tight control over the iPhone realm today. What he didn't mention: when Android began, the target was Microsoft.

Microsoft remains a competitor, of course, but it's also a major force in the corporate market where smartphones are a hot item. Android 2.1 and earlier versions had incomplete support at best, though, for tapping into Microsoft's Exchange servers. That changes dramatically with Froyo.

Android 2.2 will include not only full support for calendar operations, but also options that let administrators require security features on the phone and remotely wipe data if a phone is lost. Also new is integration with Exchange global address lists so e-mail addresses don't have to be manually recorded.

In the camera domain, Froyo will let people record video with LED flash. Today it's limited to still photos. Also coming will be screen controls for those who want to control zoom, flash, white balance, geotagging, focus, and exposure levels.

One Apple potshot came during Google's demonstration of Froyo's ability to turn an Android phone into a portable Wi-Fi hot spot. Some Apple iPads lack 3G connections, but through a Wi-Fi connection, Froyo could link it to the Net.

For Bluetooth fans, Froyo will let users share contact information with others wirelessly. Bluetooth also will work for desk and car docks.

One knock against Android has been its relatively constrained internal memory. Phones such as the HTC Incredible, with 8GB of internal storage, are the exception, meaning things are harder for game developers and others who want more capacity.

Froyo 2.2 will let people store applications on the SD memory card, not just in the internal memory, though.

And for those who like Android's driving navigation abilities or who read e-books late in the wee hours, Froyo comes with a car mode and night mode.

A frustrating part of the Android experience is manually updating applications, especially those that change frequently. In the future, people will be able to update all applications with one button press, and optionally let applications update automatically.

Chrome updates itself with no user intervention, as do Chrome extensions, a very Google-y philosophy. The company thinks applications running on phones and PCs should be like Web applications: updated continuously and behind the scenes, not a frozen collection of bits installed that's rarely touched.

Tom Krazit contributed to this report.