Everything You Need to Know About Android 2.2, aka Froyo

Google (s goog) today released the final version of Android 2.2, aka Froyo, through an over-the-air update to Nexus One devices. I’ve been using earlier versions of Froyo for several weeks on a daily basis (see my first impressions here), and while many of today’s improvements are behind the scenes, I find this version to be the best yet. Here’s a rundown on everything you need to know about Android’s latest upgrade for mobiles.

Better Usability — While there aren’t a lot of usability tweaks in Froyo as compared to the prior version, switching between applications is significantly easier. The best example may be in the Gmail application. I use multiple Gmail accounts in the same client, but switching between them was a chore prior to Froyo because it required me to use the handset menu button. Now I just have to tap the email address at the top right of the Gmail client on my display.

Adobe Flash 10.1 Support – Love it or hate it, Flash is everywhere on the web and with Froyo, Flash (s adbe) comes to the handset. It works reasonably well, in my experience. It’s too early to tell if battery concerns are legitimate, however, and currently, it’s only available on the Nexus One.

Market Improvements — Android finally uses the same web “smarts” that Google’s browser search has when it comes to misspellings. Prior to Froyo, searching for an app in the Market required users to know the proper spelling or keywords. Now you can spell an app name incorrectly and Froyo will make a “Did you mean this?” suggestion. Google also added app storage on SD cards, although developers must enable it at the application level, removing internal storage constraints. These are small steps to make the Market better, but more are needed.

Portable Hotspot — Froyo turns your phone into a portable hotspot by sharing the 3G signal over Wi-Fi with up to eight devices in about 15 seconds. While the feature is native to Froyo, carriers could remove it or find a way to charge for it — just not on the unlocked Google Nexus One.

Performance Boost – The Dalvik JIT virtual machine where Android apps run — third-party apps are built using Java — gains a speed increase of 2-5 times, according to Google, although my own use found the increase to be on the lower end of that range. Google also leveraged the latest V8 JavaScript engine from the Chrome desktop browser for faster web browsing, especially with JavaScript-heavy sites.

Cloud-to-Device Messaging — Through an API, a web app on the desktop can now send data directly to your Froyo phone. Perhaps you want to send an address or directions from Google Maps to your handset, for example. Clicking a button on the desktop version of Google Maps will do just that.

Enhanced Microsoft Exchange Functions — Key native features required by many enterprises debut in Froyo, including remote wipe capability, improved security and passwords, Exchange calendars and Global Address Lists.

When and How Do Other Phones Get Froyo?

Only the Nexus One is getting Froyo directly from Google via an over-the-air update; all other Android-based handsets are at the mercy of the carriers and handset makers. Even if a carrier does decide to offer Froyo, the software must be integrated and tested with the current build offered since carriers often add their own software or tweaks. This process takes time and Google only provided Froyo to its carrier and handset partners last week. Few of Google’s partners have yet committed to specific delivery dates, so watch for upgrades over the next 1-4 months for most.

There are currently 60 Android-based handsets available via 59 carriers by way of 21 handset partners — and with Froyo, there are now four versions of the OS in the wild: 1.5, 1.6, 2.1 and 2.2. Some call it a legacy issue while others like me believe this situation to be a fragmentation challenge. Call it what you want, but if you’re in the market for an Android device, I recommend it comes with or will eventually see Froyo.

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Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One