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Android 1.6 highlights

Android users should be getting the Android 1.6 update in October.

The quick search box provides enhanced system wide search. Google

Google released the latest Android software development kit this week so that developers could begin to test their applications for the looming Android 1.6 update. End users can expect to see the update as early as next month, but I went ahead and loaded an early version on my phone to preview the latest changes.

Possibly the most notable update is the new quick search box, which includes a redesigned search framework to make finding things on your phone easier than ever before. Users can search through apps, contacts, browser history, music, the Web, and more. The quick search box is smart enough to learn your searching habits to provide the fastest results and can also access your location to provide local results. Google is allowing developers to utilize the quick search box to scan any of their applications.

The other significant feature is the overhauled Android Market. Google listened to the community and is finally allowing developers to display screenshots of their applications. The Market navigation has also been tweaked to highlight paid applications. When viewing any Market category, the top-paid downloads screen is now the default view.

The camera and camcorder applications have also received makeovers. Users can quickly toggle between capturing still photos, recording videos, and viewing the gallery. In addition to the new look, Android 1.6 provides a faster camera experience. Google is claiming that launching the camera is now 39 percent faster than in the previous version and there is a 28 percent improvement in the time from completing one shot to the next.

People with wireless networks will enjoy the new security protocols supported. It is now possible to connect to Wi-Fi networks with WPA2 encryption. Business users will also be able to connect to secure networks with the new Virtual Private Network control panel.

Among my favorite new additions to Android 1.6 is the new battery usage screen. Located in the About Phone settings, this tool allows you to see exactly which processes are eating up battery power. The visual presentation makes it easy to see which applications and phone features use the most battery and take action to address any issues. If you find a rogue app is running in the background and constantly transmitting data, you can adjust its settings or perform a full uninstall.

Other new features crammed into this update include new accessibility options for the disabled, a multilingual text-to-speech engine, a new gesture control framework, and support for CDMA networks. Google has also updated the Linux kernel to include all the latest security patches.

Based on previous release schedules, we might see Android 1.6 sometime in October. Carriers need time to test the update on their networks and developers have to ensure their apps are compatible, so don't be shocked if the official update slips to early November. We were also concerned in the past that T-Mobile might have difficulty cramming this update into the limited internal storage space of the G1, but it appears Google engineers have been able to reduce the total size of the operating system so that it fits.