Nov 25 AT 10:00 AM Taylor Wimberly 76 Comments

12 Gingerbread Android 2.3 features that Andy Rubin might announce on December 6th

After you get done filling your belling with turkey and stuffing today here are a few more Gingerbread crumbs to chew on. We have been expecting the next Android update ever since Google placed the giant Gingerbread man on their front lawn, but then we heard rumors of a delay and we have been patiently waiting ever since.

Some thought Google CEO Eric Schmidt might announce Android 2.3 when he appeared at the Web 2.0 Summit last week, but all he did was show off an “unannounced product” and said Gingerbread was coming in the next few weeks. Now Andy Rubin, the godfather of Android, is scheduled to speak at D: Dive Into Mobile on December 6th and everyone is speculating that might be the magic day for the Android 2.3 announcement.

We can’t say for sure what he will talk about or possibly announce, but as we get closer to the launch of Gingerbread more and more features are starting to leak out. Read on after the jump for 12 features that could be appearing in the next release of Android.

1. Tweaked UI

Gingerbread blurry

It doesn’t sound like the Android UI is getting a complete overhaul till Honeycomb, but Gingerbread will include some small tweaks. The notification bar at the top of the screen has gone from white to black, the launcher buttons are now green instead of translucent, and many of the native app icons have received a makeover.

Most of the existing native apps will also look slightly updated thanks to tweaks with the styling of menus, check boxes, and radio buttons as leaked in the last Google Maps update. Other small tweaks include new animations when you swipe across the desktop and when you power off the display (as reported by Phandroid).

2. Near Field Communications (NFC)

Mastercard Paypass

We first reported back in October that Samsung’s Google experience phone would support MasterCard PayPass, and then last week Eric Schmidt confirmed that Gingerbread would support Near Field Communication (NFC).

NFC is a short-range, high frequency wireless communication technology that only operates when two devices are about 4 inches apart. It is basically just another form of electronic identification except the ID is tied to a bank or credit card company. All the user needs to do is just setup their account then tap their phone to a wireless payment pad and complete the transaction.

Eric Schmidt said that in the future your phone could replace your credit card, so you can see how important this is to Google and their partners.

Opponents of NFC say it might fail because it is too complex and big companies will fight over who owns the point of control for the transaction, but if Google is going to make this a standard feature on all future Gingerbread phones then we think that ensures it will at least move the mobile payment standard forward.

MasterCard has not been confirmed as a NFC partner, but I think there is a good chance they are on board in addition to some other payment companies like PayPal.

3. New Motion Control APIs

Wii Motion Plus

True 1:1 motion processing is coming to Gingerbread thanks to InvenSense, the company behind the MEMS gyroscope sensor found in the Nintendo Wii MotionPlus controller.

Gyroscope sensors have already appeared in some phones like the Samsung Galaxy S, but Android 2.3 will add new sensor fusion APIs including quaternion, rotation matrix, linear acceleration and gravity. These new tools will open the door to all kinds of motion controls for augmented reality apps, games, navigation systems, and camera improvements like image stabilization.

See our previous post for a video with several real-world demos.

4. Native Video Chat

Terminator Video Chat

In his last interview, Andy Rubin hinted that native video chat was coming to the next version of Android. “We support video chat today, with Google Talk Video. It works on the desktop. Whether that can be repurposed and made appropriate for sipping bandwidth for mobile, it’s an exercise that’s underway.”

If Mr. Rubin is willing to admit that it’s underway, that tells me the project could be nearing completion and already in the testing phases.

It looks like all the high-end phones coming in the next few months will include front-facing cameras so this is another sign that Android is ready for a native video sharing app to connect all these devices.

5. New Android Market

Android Market

Google has been telling us for awhile that a new Android Market was coming and recently said new features could appear in the next few weeks. The Android Market can be updated separately from the operating system, but the timing tells us the new Market could be tied to the release of Gingerbread.

Confirmed features for the new Android Market include YouTube video previews, parental controls, PayPal payments, and new high-res promotion graphics that sound like they will be used on the desktop browser version of the Market.

At the Google I/O Developer Conference we attended back in May, Vic Gundotra demonstrated the browser version of the Market that was being tested. See the video below for an idea of what to expect.

6. Google Music

As you can see from the video above, Google is also working on a music streaming service for Android. They launched a music search service earlier this year and hoped to get their music store opened before Christmas, but the latest reports say it might be delayed till 2011. Apparently the music labels are still negotiating with Google on how their “digital locker” will store purchased music, but maybe they come to an agreement this year.

This is coming sooner or later so if it doesn’t make it into Gingerbread then I expect we will see it early next year when Honeycomb tablets are revealed.

7. Support For More Large Screen Devices

Android display sizes

On the Android Device Dashboard there is a report where Google displays the different screen sizes and densities of devices that access the Android Market. The Large category is currently blank, but look for more big screen devices like tablets to be officially supported in Android 2.3. This means we could see more 7-inch tablets like the Galaxy Tab (1024 x 600) get certified and maybe a few other resolutions for the new smartphone displays that are rumored to be coming.

We have also heard that Google might relax the rules of their Compatibility Definition Document and allow non-3G devices to be certified. No WiFi-only devices have been certified to use the Android Market yet, but Android 2.3 should hopefully change that.

In a somewhat related note, I believe this is the reason the WiFi-only Galaxy Tab was delayed till next year so that Samsung could make sure that Google allowed them to ship it with the Android Market.

8. Virtual Keyboard Enhancements

Blind Type

Google recently acquired hot startup BlindType to improve their virtual keyboard and we are hearing the enhancements might be coming as soon as Gingerbread. The old company website is now down, but you can still see a demo of their technology on YouTube.

What is BlindType? It is a revolutionary system that:

  • Eliminates touch typing frustrations
  • Allows for super sloppy typing
  • Helps you type easier and faster
  • Constantly adjusts to the user’s “perceived” keyboard and typing style
  • Just type the way you are used to – no gestures, nothing new to learn!

9. Support for WebM and VP8

WebM YouTube

We know that support for WebM and the VP8 video format are coming to Gingerbread because Google and the WebM team have told us this.

WebM is defined on the official project page as, “An open media file format designed for the web. WebM files consist of video streams compressed with the VP8 video codec and audio streams compressed with the Vorbis audio codec. The WebM file structure is based on the Matroska media container. Though video is also now core to the web experience, there is unfortunately no open and free video format that is on par with the leading commercial choices. To that end, we started the WebM project, a broadly-backed community effort to develop an open web media format.”

YouTube now offers WebM videos as part of its HTML5 player experiment. Logitech and Skype are also working with the format for future video calling services.

10. New YouTube With Broadcasting

As we get near the end of the list some of these possible features might be a stretch, but there are still hints that new YouTube features are coming. Phandroid reported that Gingerbread will have a new YouTube app and we know that they are also testing their new live broadcasting platform.

If you look at how important video will be to the upcoming Gingerbread experience, then it is not too hard to imagine that YouTube will allow live broadcasting from your phone similar to Qik or Ustream.

The next generation of superphones will include dual-core processors that support 1080p video streaming and also have speedy 4G connections, so the hardware is definitely going to be there to make it happen.

11. Google Me or Social Gaming Network

Labpixies

Google recently denied the reports they were working on a Facebook competitor called Google Me, but all the signs are there that Google is working on a way to bring together all their social services. TechCrunch reported that Google’s master pitchman Vic Gundotra was being placed in charge of the project, so we expect big things from him.

Andy Rubin hinted that Gingerbread would include improvements for gaming in a previous interview. “I think gaming is an area that I think is underserved right now. If we were to carefully look at what new features and functionalities in the platform that we would need to support all forms of gaming across the entire spectrum, I think that would probably be an interesting thing to pay attention to.”

A number of recent acquisitions and partner agreements might also play a role in this social gaming platform. In the last year Google acquired LabPixies for $25 million (an Israeli startup that made web games), Jambool for $70 million (makers of a virtual currenty platform), Slide for $182 million (Facebook games developer), and invested $100-200 million in Zynga (makers of Farmville).

Apple’s Game Center and platforms like Open Feint have really raised the bar for social gaming, so Google will have to release something soon if they want to catch up.

12. Flagship Phone – Nexus S

Finally, what good is a brand new operating system unless you have a flagship product that can show off all the new features. That device is the Samsung Nexus S which is widely expected to be released alongside Android 2.3. Google’s CEO recently demoed the phone to show off its NFC capabilities, so hopefully we see the device soon.

The Nexus S was originally planned to launch at Best Buy on November 11th, but then TechCrunch reported a serious hardware issue had caused a delay. One of our tipsters said the original Samsung Nexus S was scrapped for a newer dual-core version, which shocked many people because they did not expect Samsung to have a dual-core phone this year, but another trusted source also confirmed that Samsung had such a device in testing.

Conclusion

In the next few weeks we should hopefully get an official list of new Android 2.3 features from Google, but don’t be surprised if Andy Rubin doesn’t announce anything on December 6th.

Google and Samsung already missed the rumored launch date, so they could delay this project till next year in order to iron out all the launch details. Some would say that Samsung has rushed their recent Android products to market without properly testing them (aka GPS issues), so I have no problem with them taking as long as they need.

I would love a taste of Gingerbread for Christmas, but if waiting till next year gets me a fully functional dual-core Nexus S then I’m all for waiting.

How do you think Android 2.3 is shaping up so far? Does this sound like a worthy update, or do you hope that Google is packing in even more exciting features? What other types of improvements would you like to see included with Android 2.3?

If you think I’m leaving off any confirmed features, please leave a comment and I’ll gladly add them to the list.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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