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Official multitouch to appear in Android 2.0?

The upcoming Eclair branch of Android is rumored to be Android 2.0 and include multitouch support.

Developer Luke Hutch was the first to release multitouch features on the G1.
Luke Hutch

Google Android fans have long been waiting for official multitouch support on Android devices, but Google has yet to offer any confirmation. Even at this year's Google I/O developers conference where multitouch was a hot topic, I only heard that "we don't know when it is coming." But after doing some digging and speaking to several sources with knowledge of the situation, it looks like Android users may finally get their wish this holiday season.

When is it coming?
Allow me to start with the rumor of the day. From what I understand, Android 2.0 will ship this year and will include multitouch support similar to what's found on the iPhone and the Palm Pre.This might sound far-fetched to some readers, but there is mounting evidence to back it up.

Several blogs have reported that Android will receive two more updates this year. I believe the first will be a minor update based on the Donut branch of Android. The second update, however, is likely to be a major refresh based off the Eclair branch.

The release schedule was recently echoed in a Reuters interview with Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google. Reuters reported that Donut will become Android 1.6 and Eclair will ship as Android 2.0.

So if Android 2.0 is coming this year, when exactly will it be released? Well, if the rumors are true, Google has chosen Motorola to showcase Eclair on one of its upcoming Android phones. A Moto phone is quite plausible given the recent comments from Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha, who said that his company is "100 percent" tied with Google. He characterized Moto and Google's relationship as "very solid" and said the two are coordinating their development effort.

Jha's comments fall in line with what I've seen about an upcoming device called the Motorola Sholes. Several sources have told me that Sholes, which could launch on Verizon Wireless before year's end, will be the flagship device for Google's Eclair release.

What will it offer?
Since Google apparently has decided to use the Android 2.0 branding this year, we can expect some significant upgrades to the mobile operating system. As previously mentioned, multitouch support is one of the most requested features. Android engineers have previously squashed hopes of seeing multitouch in the Donut update, but there is evidence that the company is working on it.

Google routinely drops new code into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that gives us a preview of what's coming in Android. Many independent developers use this open-source code to release custom versions of Android that you can flash onto a hacked phone. Cyanogen, one of the most active developers, said there is nothing in the Donut Android code for multitouch, but there are new kernel commits to support it.

Some handset manufacturers like HTC have included their own multitouch features in phones like the Hero, but adding the feature through a software upgrade would be different because Google is directly involved.

Google, Motorola, and Verizon have been extremely quiet with the exact details of this looming launch. With Motorola set to unveil its first Android phones at the upcoming Motodev Summit, we'll finally know its secret. And if everything turns out to be true, Verizon will have a hot smartphone and Google will have a worthy device for pitting Android 2.0 against the new iPhone OS 3.0. Prepare to be surprised.