The gadget web sites have been a-buzz this week about several possible changes coming soon for Android phones. In the rumor category is news of a new Google Phone, reported by several sites as being named the Nexus S, that is to be manufactured by Samsung. Other changes that we know are definitely coming, but we just don’t know when, are the Android 2.3 upgrade, code named Gingerbread, and changes to the Android Market.
Todd wrote yesterday about the Nexus S. The speculation is that this Samsung phone is intended to replace the Nexus One as the “Google phone.” What the term “Google Phone” has developed into meaning is a phone that runs a stock version of the Android operating system and that gets upgrades to Android first. You might recall that the Nexus One was introduced last January as the first Google Phone and it was only sold online by Google. The direct sales approach did not work well and this fall Google stopped selling the Nexus One. I think it is likely that the Nexus S is real, the question is whether it is only intended for developers and Google employees or if it will be sold to the entire smartphone market. What we don’t know is how Google will sell this phone. If it is intended only for developers, Google will likely sell it directly and probably announce it in the next couple of weeks. If it is being sold broadly to consumers, I expect it to be sold by carriers and might not be available until early January.
While the actual arrival of the Nexus S may be in doubt, we know for certain that Android 2.3, code named Gingerbread, is coming, we just don’t know how soon. Has as been their tradition when a major upgrade of Android is about to ship, Google has added a Gingerbread lawn ornament to their collection at the Googleplex. Cnet has an article that provides some information about what we might see in Android 2.3, mostly emphasizing user interface upgrades. Perhaps the main speculation about Android 2.3 is whether or not it is intended to be used for tablets. Google has specifically stated that Android 2.2 is not intended for tablets and that a future version of Android will be optimized for tablets. Despite what Google has been saying, manufacturers have developed tablets running Android 2.2, mostly notably the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which has just start selling at carriers in the U.S. I think it is likely that Android 2.3 will not be for tablets, with the tablet version coming in Android 3.0, code named Honeycomb, that might appear mid-2011.
Finally, probably one of the more notable inclusions in Android 2.3 is likely an upgrade of the Android Market. Computerworld has a run down of some of the features that may be included in an upgraded Android Market, such as Paypal support, a music store, and a better desktop web site. All of these features have been shown by Google over the past year, so I think it is a safe bet that they will be included in an upgrade.
When Google does release Android 2.3, Nexus One owners will likely be the first to see the upgrade appear on their phone, as was the case when Android 2.2 was released. Unfortunately, owners of other handsets will be at the mercy of their mobile provider, who controls when the upgrades are released for their phones. I think it’s clear that Google has some end of the year excitement in store for Android users, but the extent of that excitement is just not clear at this time.